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Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Phillies' Happ both lucky and awesome

Let's set the record straight, shall we? David Murphy:

Look, nobody's saying Happ can't pitch. In 2008, I wrote at least once that Happ should have been getting some of the innings that were going to Adam Eaton and (especially) Kyle Kendrick. Kyle Kendrick ... now he was a lucky rookie (in 2007).

The fact is that Happ's pitched only 202 innings in the majors, and odd things can happen in 202 innings. Further, he was a somewhat different pitcher in the minors. In 259 Triple-A innings, he struck out 9.4 hitters per nine innings (as opposed to 6.7 in the majors). Just one year ago, Baseball America ranked Happ as the Phillies' ninth-best prospect (and far behind Carlos Carrasco, among others). John Sickels gave Happ a B- grade, mostly because Happ doesn't throw hard.

Sickels' conclusion: "I think he can be a fine number four starter if he maintains the progress he made this year. I compared him to Mark Redman last year, and I think that comparison still holds."

Every team needs a reliable No. 4 starter, but I think Happ's better than Redman, who won more than a dozen games just once in his career. Happ doesn't throw hard, but that big Triple-A strikeout rate does suggest that he's deceptive (and his major-league strikeout rate is better than Redman's, too).

There's a good bit about Zack Greinke in the piece, too. And a nice little primer on FIP and xFIP. I just wish that Happ didn't have to worry about this stuff. I mean, it's neat that Greinke's been introduced to sabermetrics by a teammate (Brian Bannister). But why should a pitcher have to take a bunch of guff from nerds like me?

Except he's probably not. Usually what happens is, some nerd writes that Happ was lucky (true) and then someone who works for a newspaper says, "Hey, did you see what the nerds are saying about you? They're saying you were just lucky. What do you think about that?"

What's Happ going to say? "Yeah, they're right. I'm not nearly as good as my ERA says. All that work I've been doing since I was 8 years old didn't have anything to do with it. And yeah, it's really easy to stand out there and stare at Albert Pujols from 60 feet away."

I don't think so.

The implication sometimes is that people like me don't respect the talents of people like J.A. Happ.

I don't suppose I should speak for my colleagues, so I'll just tell you this: J.A. Happ, lucky or not, awes me. He's one of the most brilliant athletes on the planet, doing something that's incredibly rare and difficult. And that's all true whether Happ is the new Mark Redman or the new Tom Glavine.