J.A. Happ is Yankees secret weapon for the MLB Playoffs

Sep 19, 2020; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher J.A. Happ (33) pitches during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees have clinched a MLB Playoff spot, and they’ll spend the final week of the regular season making decisions on the final roster for the playoffs.

Most of the New York Yankees’ roster is decided. Since they’ve been cruising of late after some initial struggles during the shortened season, there’s not going to be many changes.

The biggest decision lies in the rotation. We already know that Gerrit Cole will start Game 1 and Masahiro Tanaka will start Game 2. It’s pretty much an open question after after that. While it has not officially been announced, what seemed crazy a few weeks ago could become a reality.

J.A. Happ earns spot on Yankees playoff roster

Happ, 37, has been incredibly hot of late and has turned into one of the most reliable pitchers on the team. Since August 16, he’s pitching to the tune of a 1.93 ERA with 36 strikeouts and just five walks. For comparison’s sake, Cole has turned in a 3.19 ERA while Tanaka has a 3.62 ERA during the same span.

Many fans had been clamoring for rookie sensation Deivi Garcia to get the nod for a potential Game 3. While he will be a valuable part of the pitching staff, asking a 21-year-old with five games of experience to start in a deciding game seems a bit much. Garcia will also likely eventually get his turn, potentially lining up for two starts, one in the ALDS, if necessary, and one in the ALCS. He could serve as a key bullpen piece in the wild card round, too. In fact, Garcia could be a killer two or three inning bridge should one of the starters get into pitch-count trouble.

J.A. Happ playoff stats

Happ has a mixed postseason record with the Yankees. He was a complete disaster in 2018 and surprisingly good in limited action last year. However, it is his record of late that should have Yankees fans excited. If you were to guess that Happ is the only Yankees starter to go past the seventh inning this season, you’d be correct.

All of his peripheral stats suggest that his resurgence is real. Happ is second behind Cole in most categories among Yankees starters. That includes WHIP (1.060), hits per nine innings (6.9) and ERA+ (132). Though his FIP is slightly on the higher side (4.36), his opponent runs per nine innings is actually lower than what we have seen from Cole.

Ideally, Happ will not pitch in the wild card series. This would mean that the Yankees sweep and a Game 3 is not needed. But because there are no off-days between the wild card and ALDS, Happ would be a perfect candidate to start Game 1 of the latter series.

Potential New York Yankees playoff rotation

  • Game 1, Wild Card: Cole
  • Game 2, Wild Card: Tanaka
  • Game 1, ALDS: Happ
  • Game 2, ALDS: Cole
  • Game 3: ALDS: Tanaka
  • Game 4, ALDS: Garcia
  • Game 5, ALDS Cole (on short rest)
  • Game 1, ALCS: Tanaka
  • Game 2, ALCS: Happ
  • Game 3, ALCS: Cole
  • Game 4, ALCS: Garcia
  • Game 5, ALCS: Tanaka
  • Game 6, ALCS: Happ
  • Game 7, ALCS: Cole

Obviously, some of this will be dependent on the situation and it remains possible that Happ will be needed for a decisive Game 3 in the wild card round. But this potential plan shows the value of using Happ as the de-facto third starter. For one, he’s equally capable of pitching in a must-win Game 3 or starting the series off right in a Game 1 in the ALDS. It also allows Cole to start decisive games in the ALDS and ALCS, which is why the Yanks brought the righty to the Bronx in the first place.

Happ has had an inconsistent Yankees tenure. He was dynamite after being acquired in 2018 before flaming out in the playoffs. He was pretty miserable in 2019.

And while it doesn’t appear he’ll qualify for the automatic vesting option for 2021, he’s sufficiently rebounded that Yankees fans can live with his tenure in the Bronx.

So this looks to be the final run for Happ with the Yankees, who will turn 38 in the middle of October. But if he delivers on his postseason role and continues his hot pitching, it’ll be well worth it.