NorrisArmDome

What??!? Can’t possibly imagine anything going wrong with that elbow.

Well here’s something. According to an official release from the Jays, young lefty Dan Norris had arthroscopic surgery this morning to remove bone spurs from his pitching elbow.

“Recovery time from the surgery is normally six weeks and the Daniel is expected to be ready for Spring Training in 2015,” it adds.

Just yesterday, in the Daily Duce, I passed along a link to a scouting report from Doug Thorburn of Baseball Prospectus, who had watched Norris’s less-than-impressive debut start on the final Thursday of the season. In a portion I didn’t quote, he wrote this:

The lefty struggled to maintain his velocity in the September 25th game, going from 92-94 mph in the first inning to 88-90 mph in the third. There are several caveats here, from the typical first-inning burst of a fired-up pitcher making his starting debut to end-season fatigue and his 30-day layoff from the rotation, so the downward velo trend is not a concern so much as it is something to keep an eye on with his future starts. The BP prospect crew put him at 92-95 mph and touching 97 prior to the season, with his fastball receiving a 6 grade overall, and the early returns suggest that the heat will be a weapon for the southpaw.

The big question, as it is with virtually any young pitcher, is fastball command. In the September 25th game, Norris had a prevailing tendency to miss up (especially to the arm-side) against opposing batters. He did this with all of the pitch-types at his disposal, indicating that a late trigger was preventing him from achieving full extension at release point. He actually had a series of 12 consecutive pitches in the third inning that were all elevated, most of which finished above the zone. Elevated pitches will eventually meet their doom in the majors, and the Blue Jays will surely address the issue if it’s pervasive rather than a single-game blip.

This passage certainly makes a lot more sense given what we now know, and perhaps the surgery is precisely how the Jays have addressed the issues that were on display that day. That doesn’t exactly make this good news, though, does it?

I don’t know that we need to start ringing any alarm bells about Norris’s future ability to stay healthy, but no elbow surgery for a pitcher is ever good — even when it’s one of the less concerning ones, as this is.

No two pitchers’ arms are the same, either, so I don’t think we can try to glean anything about Norris from the list of guys to have had bone spur surgeries in recent years. Sure, it’s a little frightening to recall that guys like C.C. Sabathia, Josh Johnson, and Sergio Santos had the procedure, given what we know about what has happened to their arms since, but clearly there were existing arm problems for all three of those guys that went deeper than this one issue.

That doesn’t mean that couldn’t be the case for Norris, but there are more heartwarming examples of guys who’ve had the same kind of procedure: C.J. Wilson underwent it following the 2012 season, and came back in 2013 to pitch 212.2 innings, posting a 3.39 ERA and 3.31 FIP the next year. And Mat Latos had it after last season and was as effective as ever this year when healthy… at least statistically. His velocity was down a couple of ticks, and he missed three weeks with elbow inflammation, but mostly his season was derailed by a knee injury. Matt Cain pitched extremely well through bone spurs for years, reportedly, before having surgery that ended his season for the Giants in the middle of this year.

When discussing it in 2012, Wilson, who had pitched to a 2.43 ERA in the first half of that season, and a 5.54 ERA in the second half, after the problems arose, explained, “I tried to make a million adjustments to get around it, to the point where now I’m standing on the first-base side, trying to get an angle because I can’t throw sinkers anymore because my arm doesn’t work right.” Ultimately, though, he said he understood that “bone’s not muscle, so there’s really one way to get it taken care of.”

Hopefully for the Jays and Norris that’s all this is, and that the surgery takes care of it and there are no lingering issues with the appendage. But until we see that he’s healthy and well beyond the procedure, we can at least take comfort in the fact that he truly wasn’t himself when he made his debut as a big league starter. It’s not like in that game he was terrible or doing anything that couldn’t be corrected or undid all the positive of the outstanding season he had, but that’s not a small amount of comfort.

lindsmiling

It’s playoff time! And naturally that means the Jays are no longer in it. But that doesn’t mean things around here are going to stop, and just like last year, to get you set up for each (non-weekend) night’s playoff action, and to give you a space to talk about the game, I’m going to be taking a hopefully-quick look around at some splits and stats and whatever else stands out on a Jays player’s 2014 season, because… what the hell else is there to do for the next month? Or the next week. Or just today– or however long I actually continue to follow through on this exercise. Tonight: Adam Lind.

Tonight:
5:00 PM ET – Nationals (0) @ Giants (2) – Doug Fister (4.5 rWAR) vs. Madison Bumgarner (4.0 rWAR)
9:00 PM ET – Dodgers (1) @ Cardinals (1) – Hyun-jin Ryu (1.9 rWAR) vs. John Lackey (1.1 rWAR)

Adam Lind rubs some Jays fans the wrong way, I think. Maybe he rubs management the wrong way, too. As this season has taken the turn towards winter, I’ve heard calls for his option to not be picked up, or for it to be picked up just so the club could trade him. His wonky back can become an issue at a moment’s notice. He’s not a good defender. He can’t play at all against left-handed pitching. He forces the team to waste a roster spot on a platoon-mate. He’s slow — a “base clogger.” He is (unintentionally) outspoken: there was the incident this summer where he claimed his mom told him to get an MRI on his ailing foot, which revealed a fracture that put him on the DL and made the Jays’ medical staff look foolish, and just last week he second guessed the organization, wondering what might have been if Marcus Stroman had made the team out of camp.

He’s also an absolutely fantastic bat against right-handed pitching.

In 2014, among left-handers with 250 plate appearances in the split, Lind was tied with Michael Brantley as the best in baseball against right-handed pitching, with a 164 wRC+. In 2013 he ranked tenth. Over the last two seasons combined the “as L vs. R” leaderboard goes: David Ortiz, Freddie Freeman, Adam Lind, Robinson Cano, Chris Davis, Joey Votto.

Add in right-handed hitters — i.e. among all batters against right-handed pitching — and Lind’s wRC+ is still sixth in baseball over the last two years, with only Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, and Andrew McCutchen leapfrogging him on the list. For 2014 on its own, only Trout and McCutchen were better. Only McCutchen got on base at a better clip against right-handers.

Granted, only J.D. Martinez had a higher BABIP in the split, but the fact that Lind ranked 43rd by BABIP the year before, yet was still tenth by wRC+, suggests his great season wasn’t purely driven by an outlier in that regard.

Adam Lind will make just $7.5-million in 2015. This year right-handed pitchers were on the mound for 72% of all plate appearances in MLB.

There are plenty of warts on him, yes. Save for any that might be hidden behind the squirrel on his face, we can all see them. And I’m certainly not remotely saying that he comes anywhere close to bringing what guys like Trout or McCutchen do in all the other dimensions of the game. But at the plate, against 72% of the pitches thrown in the majors this year, he was very nearly equal to the best of the very, very best. That is seriously impressive stuff.

In other words, to me, $7.5-million and the need to get creative with a roster spot doesn’t seem like such a high price to pay. And the production the Jays would be losing by flipping him to fill another need? That would be extremely difficult to replace.

Salivating to get rid of Adam Lind this off-season just for the sake of it? Because he seems replaceable? Because of what he can’t do?

I don’t get it. At all.

dailyduce1-595

Daily?

Today’s biggest Jays news: Marcus Stroman will switch his jersey number to six next year. He also tweets out a preview of what the new shirt will look like. “Wearing #6 in the 6!” he says. I don’t actually need to do a full post about this, do I?

Bob Elliott wrote last week in the Toronto Sun about potential Jays targets in free agency who were playing it the Orioles-Tigers series, singling out O’s reliever Andrew Miller, and Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter, who he says the Jays attempted to sign heading into 2013, only to be spurned and go after Melky Cabrera instead. Well that’s something.

This is also something: the Jays are looking for a pair of interns — one is an analytics intern, the other a scouting intern. The links here go to the job postings on Rogers’ site. Though you won’t see any of the pay terms noted, I’m told it pays $12.75 an hour for a 35 hour week. The glamorous world of a pro baseball front office!

Awesomeness from Jonah Birenbaum at theScore, as he looks at the unexpected durability of Jose Reyes.

At BlueJays.com, Gregor Chisholm has a great position-by-position look at where the Jays are at and what they need to do this off-season.

Another one at BlueJays.com looks back on the highs and lows of the 2014 season. Great stuff.

Last week Richard Griffin wrote some silly thing in the Toronto Star, ranking this year’s playoff rotations, and suggesting that “this year’s playoffs would have been a short run for the Jays if they’d made it” because theirs wouldn’t have been able to compete with the likes of the already-eliminated Tigers and the down-2-0 Nationals. In fact, his fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-ranked of the eight rotations are either already through or up 2-0. So…

Interesting stuff at Baseball Prospectus, as Doug Thorburn gives a detailed scouting report on Dan Norris’s less-than-impressive first start. Many caveats about how long it had been since he started a game were necessary, because as you’d might expect, he felt that Norris showed that there’s sill lots of room for improvement. “Norris has an arm slot that can hover around one o’clock on the clock-face, depending on the degree of spine-tilt on that particular pitch, and he augments that tilt with a high angle of shoulder abduction. The net result is a 6.4-foot release height (Z score of 0.56) that gives him the potential for downhill plane if he can hone his command at the bottom of the strike zone,” he explains, on the positive front. On the negative? “The stuff appears relatively modest given the tease of his minor-league numbers, and though the heat should be an asset, his secondary pitches were more intriguing during Norris’ cup of coffee. The curveball was a looper that ran anywhere from 70-75 mph and which he typically threw with two-plane break, though it did get more vertical at times. The pitch appeared to leave his hand with a non-fastball trajectory and a hump in the flight path, meaning that he will need sick movement on the pitch to fool MLB hitters who can identify it quickly.”

John Lott of the National Post spoke to Colby Rasmus before the free agent outfielder left Toronto to embark on a new adventure — in the wilderness of Montana — before he hits the open market.

Matt Eddy’s latest minor league transactions update at Baseball America reveals a number of Jays minor leaguers who have (unsurprisingly) elected free agency: RHP Bobby Korecky, LHP Brad Mills, LHP Raul Valdes, 1B Dan Johnson, SS Jonathan Diaz, OF Cole Gillespie, OF Darin Mastroianni.

In the final The 30 of the season at Grantland, Jonah Keri places the Jays in 13th and lauds the starting pitching depth their system has produced.

FanGROFs Alert! It’s GROF on FOX, as he takes the reins of FanGraphs’s content sharing scheme and looks at the benefits of situational pitching. Awesome.

Great stuff at Blue Jays Plus, as Chris Sherwin goes under the hood on Dioner Navarro, and when it comes to his receiving… um… it’s not good. Meanwhile, Isaac Boloten gives a report card on Jays’ starters, and as you might expect, it’s glowing.

Lastly, a couple of Jays-related tidbits from Keith Law’s chat with readers last week at ESPN.com

Jeffrey (Ottawa)
It looks like Toronto will be using at least one young OF next season. Who would you play? Pillar, Gose or go with Pompey?
Klaw
Pompey. Don’t think the other two hit enough to matter.

David (Toronto)
A large number of Toronto media members are pushing the idea that Aaron Sanchez should be there Blue Jays closer next year. That is crazy, right?
Klaw
Yes, wastes his ability.

Kirk (The TC)
I’m sure you’ll have some sort of write up RE: the Arizona Fall League next week when it kicks off, but right now off the top of your head, who are the top guys you are looking forward to seeing? Is everyone (or at least even more than usual) going to be flocking to see Buxton just to see what he can do coming back from his lost 2014?
Klaw
Appel, Rusney, Buxton, Bell, Lindor, Zimmer, Osuna, Glasnow … it’s loaded.

Love the Pompey stuff, and while KLaw has been a little down on Sanchez over the last year or more, he’s obviously not that down. ICYMI, I wrote about this issue last week. And putting Osuna in with that group? Yowza. Pompey is going to be there as well — should be some good stuff for Jays fans to watch in the coming weeks.

Lastly lastly: Lately Facebook changed its algorithm with respect to sharing, it’s really become a much more powerful social media tool, and so it’s probably in your best interest to just go right ahead and like DJF on Facebook. That way you can get everything that’s posted here injected straight into your feed-veins.

And while we’re at it, you might as well follow me on Twitter, follow @DrunkJaysFans, and follow the dusty ol’ DJF Instagram too!

moraplayoffs

Oh, is noon on a Friday not technically the weekend yet? Well, it’s my birthday and there is, like, twelve straight hours of playoff baseball that needs to be watched, so… SMOKEBOMB!

beestonfence

When following the Blue Jays these days, it’s important to remember that Paul Beeston has a job to do. It’s also usually impossible to forget that he does, because boy, does he ever shamelessly hump that notion hard sometimes.

That isn’t to say that he isn’t good at the P.R. aspect of what he does, or not capable of pulling hope rabbits out of every hat, sleeve, and orifice. It’s just, one sometimes needs to pay some pretty careful attention in order to avoid actually paying attention to whatever the latest blather he’s bringing us is.

Does any of that make any sense?

Actually, it doesn’t matter, because neither did much of the aural application of lipstick to a pig we were treated to on this morning’s Jeff Blair Show on the Fan 590, on which Beeston appeared.

Ben Nicholson-Smith has an excellent roundup — with the full audio included — over at Sportsnet, but I suppose I ought to go through what was said in my own special way, eh?

Here are the highlights:

- Beeston hasn’t signed a new contract with Rogers. He admits he’s in the last year of his contract, but “I’m here for as long as Rogers wants me here,” he says. And at the point when they don’t, or he doesn’t want to be here, he expects they’ll work together on “some kind of organized phase out.”

- “I think that you can read into that,” he says of the idea that Anthopoulos and Gibbons will both be back. “I can say for a fact that Alex is back, unless, you know, he’s leaving,” he added, meaning leaving of his own volition.

- “We were trying to build something that was sustainable. We may have fast-started it by the 2013 moves, but nevertheless, when you start looking at what we did then, it was to give back to the fans.” Awwwww, bae.

- He doesn’t want to blame injuries, because everybody has injuries, but… um… about all those injuries we had! [Note: the Orioles say hi.]

- Blair pointed out that the TV ratings were quite strong this season, even though attendance at the Rogers Centre fell. But Beeston says the fact that it didn’t fall a whole lot is actually impressive, given all the advanced sales they had in 2013, the terrible season that turned out to be, and (with a little nudge from Blair on this one) the traffic mess Jays fans were faced with much of the year. Can’t actually disagree with them here.

- “It’s been escalating,” he says of payroll. “It went to 90, it went to 125, it went to 137. And you know it’s going higher next year,” he added emphatically, likely so as to drown out the laughs. Sounds great, though. I’ll believe it when I see it.

- Blah blah five year plan blah.

- “You’ll have to ask Alex that one,” he says when asked why Melky Cabrera wasn’t signed mid-season.

- The Jays are getting new turf for next season, and “we want grass for 2018,” he says. After some talk about the technological difficulties, Blair asked about the possibility of getting the All-Star game once the stadium playing surface isn’t dogshit, and Beeston said their plan, while not formalized yet, is to try to get it.

- Beeston calls new commissioner, Rob Manfred, an excellent choice, and points out that he was the one who hired him back when he was working for the commissioner’s office. The fact that he initially didn’t vote for Manfred at the recent papal conclave, he says, won’t carry any repercussions, as it was a “no win” situation, and he had to vote for someone, but felt both were great candidates. Beeston’s son works for Tom Werner, the losing candidate who Beeston initially voted for, so maybe this passes the smell test.

This was probably my favourite part of the whole affair, though:

Hmmmm. Yep.

So… there’s that.

sanchezthrowsblue

Greg Wisniewski has an excellent piece up at Blue Jays Plus, where he uses actual numbers and logic in an attempt to answer the question that was on a lot of minds during the latter half of this summer: should Aaron Sanchez remain in the bullpen?

The argument for is fairly elegant: even though we can expect some regression, given his otherworldly beginnings as a big league reliever and the fact that the league has only seen 30 innings of him so far, he still could be a spectacular, bullpen-saving multi-inning reliever.

Imagine the Jays with Sanchez doing — albeit via groundballs, not strikeouts — what Dellin Betances did for the Yankees this season, throwing 90 relief innings over 70 appearances, 35 of which saw him get four outs or more.

It’s tantalizing, and — as Greg argues — it’s a way to get a tonne of immediate big league value out of Sanchez, rather than either having him toil in Buffalo or by making room for him in the rotation only to have him shut down late in the season because of an innings cap. It also, I might add, leaves him somewhat stretched out, and therefore more ready than most to assume a spot in the rotation should anyone go down to injury or need to be demoted for performance reasons — at which point his innings will likely have been suppressed enough that worrying about an early shut-down will have stopped being an issue.

This is all well and good. Counterintuitive as it may be to want to take innings away from what may be one of your better pitchers, you can make a pretty compelling case out of these ideas, I think. But if I were to take sort of issue with Greg’s piece, it would start around here:

The argument I’ve heard against the whole idea is that of the possibilty of injury. Frankly, I don’t buy it, and I don’t think the Blue Jays worry about the bullpen causing injuries to starters due to a change in routine. Sanchez, Stroman, and Daniel Norris (not to mention Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek) were all put in the bullpen this year after starting games, and there was no hesitation to do so from the Blue Jays front office.

Injury may well be an argument against the notion that some have made, but I personally wouldn’t make it — for exactly the reasons Greg cites — and I wouldn’t call it the argument against the scheme, either.

What I would call the argument against it is essentially twofold, though comes down to one central conceit: you eventually want Aaron Sanchez to be a starter — and not just any starter, but a very, very good one. That’s a key difference between him and Betances, who seems now a reliever in full. And the timeline for Sanchez’s future in the rotation isn’t necessarily just some vague “eventually,” but actually rather specific and, frankly, pretty soon.

J.A. Happ’s contract is up following the 2015 season. Mark Buehrle will hit free agency after next year as well. R.A. Dickey will likely be around for one year after that, but it’s too early to say whether his 2016 option will be picked up, and not impossible to think that injury or poor performance could force the Jays to drop him, creating three large holes in the club’s rotation twelve months from now.

Daniel Norris would ideally be able to fill one of those holes, but Sanchez, coming off a mere 100 inning season, likely could not. At least not in the way that you’d want.

The BJP piece notes that the Jays attempt to be gradual with the way they increase their young starters’ workloads, which they say poses a problem for Sanchez next spring, as he’ll be coming off a year in which he logged just 133.1 innings. But though Greg notes at one point that 30 inning increases are generally the maximum, he shows later that Marcus Stroman’s total this year actually went up by 42 innings. Daniel Norris also jumped about that much, from 90.2 last season to this year’s 131.1. And Drew Hutchison’s career high was 149.1 innings back in 2011, before he went up to 184.2 this year — a smaller jump, yes, but still above 30 and maybe more risky given his surgery and how long it had been since his arm had been built up to that point.

Not only does that make something closer to 175 innings — i.e. just ten innings fewer than Hutchison this year — plausible for Sanchez in 2015, it also puts him in line to pitch with no restrictions the following season (provided good health, of course). That’s not the case if he becomes a 100 inning guy this year, and while I’m sure the Jays could find a way to work around it (or, given their actions with Hutchison, simply increase his 2016 workload to 40-odd innings above its previous peak), it’s not the only problem that arises from bullpen plan.

There is also the issue of his repertoire and its development.

Sanchez essentially ditched his changeup while working out of the Jays’ bullpen this summer, throwing it just 4.2% of the time according to the data at Brooks. His curveball showed up just 13.1% of the time, while the rest of his pitches were either sinkers (59.7%) or four-seamers (23.0%). That’s not exactly the way to hone still-developing secondary offerings, nor is the fact that as a reliever he wouldn’t be turning lineups over particularly great for his development either.

To those points, here’s how Mark Anderson of Baseball Prospectus described the changeup he saw Sanchez using while pitching for New Hampshire on April 13th and June 8th of this year:

Poor pitch in both outings; lacks feel for offering; consistently misses up with CH; lacked consistent movement but showed occasional dive that didn’t seem repeatable; almost always overthrown and way too firm; needs to let the grip do the work; question whether feel will ever develop enough for average third pitch; stayed away from it in tight spots; seemed to use slower curveball as change-of-pace offering instead of changeup.

If Sanchez is being asked to come into high leverage big league situations and get outs all year, is he going to throw that pitch enough to really get the feel for it that he needs? Is practically shelving it for a year the best thing for its continued development?

These are important questions, and it would be easy to answer them with an emphatic “No!” But it’s not like he necessarily needs the change that badly in order to become an effective big league starter, either. In fact, in the concluding section of Anderson’s scouting report he says that Sanchez reminds him “a lot of A.J. Burnett in many ways.” Part of that is maybe just an overall feeling — he “will look brilliant at times and lost at others,” he says, calling Sanchez a future “mid-rotation starter who will have streaks where he can shows more than that” — but part of it too is that Burnett gets by just fine using a similar set of pitches.

Since 2007, Brooks says A.J. has thrown his changeup 5.9% of the time. The rest of his pitches, like Sanchez, have been a mix of curves, sinkers, and four-seamers. Burnett’s curve isn’t thrown the same way, his usage of it has been much heavier (31.6%), and his ratio of sinkers to four-seamers is quite different, but maybe he represents a sort of model of something you hope Sanchez can be.

It’s just… is that all you want him to be?

Sure, you’d take getting A.J. Burnett’s career out of Aaron Sanchez in a heartbeat. IN A HEARTBEAT. And consigning him to the bullpen for now won’t necessarily stunt him, so maybe my concerns about the lack of repetition of the changeup and putting off having him turn lineups over are a bit overblown. But I just can’t not believe that continuing to let him grow as a pitcher, rather than narrowing his focus at this still-crucial point in his development, is paramount. And combined with the innings issue you’ll run into when looking to him as a likely rotation piece in 2016, I tend to think that going for the short-term value gain of having him pitch as a multi-inning reliever next season probably just isn’t as worthwhile as it seems.

Um… unless you didn’t buy the arguments about using him in the ‘pen in the first place, in which case it’s exactly as worthwhile as it seems.

happsterbackground

It’s playoff time! And naturally that means the Jays are no longer in it. But that doesn’t mean things around here are going to stop, and just like last year, to get you set up for each (non-weekend) night’s playoff action, and to give you a space to talk about the game, I’m going to be taking a hopefully-quick look around at some splits and stats and whatever else stands out on a Jays player’s 2014 season, because… what the hell else is there to do for the next month? Or the next week. Or just today– or however long I actually continue to follow through on this exercise. Tonight: J.A. Happ.

Tonight:
5:30 PM ET – Detroit @ Baltimore – Max Scherzer (6.0 rWAR) vs. Chris Tillman (2.4 rWAR)
8:00 PM ET – Kansas City @ Anaheim – Jason Vargas (2.4 rWAR) vs. Jered Weaver (3.0 rWAR)

In the overall, J.A. Happ didn’t have as good a 2014 as you probably think. Looking at the numbers, he certainly didn’t have as good a year as I believed — 1.3 fWAR, 1.4 rWAR, 4.22 ERA, 4.27 FIP, average HR/FB rate, almost three walks per nine innings, a K/9 that exactly matches his career mark of 7.58.

He really doesn’t even necessarily have long, stellar stretches to admire if we play the arbitrary endpoint game, either. For example, the end of his season was certainly better than the beginning, but his numbers after the All-Star break aren’t that different. The ERA is a tasty 3.56, yes, and the xFIP a handsome 3.65, but the FIP is 4.26, the strikeout rate is about the same (7.61), and though the walks were an impressively un-Happian 2.00 per nine, he was also getting some good fortune with respect to batted ball luck (.266 BABIP) and strand rate (77.8%).

Yet, 2014 felt like a real step in the right direction, odd as that may seem to be when you’re talking about a pitcher who turns 32 later this month.

Was it just the increased ability to limit walks? Not necessarily just that, but I think that’s one visible part of an entire reshaping of Happ as a pitcher that took place this season. One that we ought to hope he can sustain, as he’s in line to make just $6.7-million next season — provided the Jays don’t trade him, which could also be an intriguing possibility given their depth and the genuine value he built in 2014.

Part of what makes his year feel so much better than the aggregate numbers maybe look, I think, is our perception. I was at Brighthouse Field in Clearwater when Happ made his disastrous first appearance of the spring, and while he wasn’t quite as bad as his line that day made it look, it was pretty damn bad. And saying that the rest of his spring was equally vomitous is an understatement. I noted on March 25th that his Grapefruit League ERA at the time was a “cock-mangling 20.57.” That’s one of the reasons the club swallowed hard and started the season with Dustin McGowan in the rotation, with Happ taking a turn in Dunedin, then Buffalo before getting called up to join the big club’s bullpen.

He was awful, and I remember the lonely feeling of defending him to the frothing masses who found his atrocious spring bringing to mind the worst of the worst potential outcomes. (I… uh… I also remember the lonely feeling of saying it was dumb to call Brandon Morrow injury prone *COUGH*, so let’s not let me get feeling too smug about my predictive abilities here).

After a couple of relief appearances in April, it was revealed on May 1st that Happ would be getting a spot start in Philadelphia on the 5th, ostensibly as a way to get some extra rest in for the ailing McGowan (who, though the details weren’t public yet, was having trouble recovering from his starts) and the very green Drew Hutchison, who had been thrown into the fire with just 35.1 post-Tommy John innings on his arm. It was only a day later, however, that Brandon Morrow made his final start of the year, and Happ’s spot start turned into his becoming a fully-fledged member of the rotation, for better or worse.

Somehow, it was for better.

Much of it — maybe all of it — comes down to newfound velocity. Happ’s fastball sat at 92.7 in 2014, which was a 1.6 mph increase over the previous year (which was itself a career high), and a nonsensical improvement for a guy who made one start for the Phillies as a 24-year-old call-up in 2007, and sat at 87.7.

That velocity gain allowed him to change his pitch usage, too. He threw fastballs 72% of the time in 2014, which is a major change from 2010, when he moved from the Phillies to the Astros in-season, and his rate was just 58.9%. It was a big jump from what we’ve seen in his Blue Jays career, too, where he’d thrown it about 65% of the time. The increased usage came at the expense of his slider (used 6.3% of the time, compared to 10.9% in 2013, and 13.8% in 2012), and his changeup (9.5% in 2014 compared to 15.7% the year previous).

Meanwhile, he also built on steadily-made gains in terms of the percentage of pitches he threw for strikes — something it’s obviously easier to feel comfortable doing when you’re touching 94 and 95 than when your fastball sits at 87.7, or even, as it did in his first full year in the league, 88.9. Much of Happ’s plate discipline data doesn’t look terribly different in 2014 than it had in the years previous, though according to the Pitch F/X he threw strikes 52% of the time this season — a number that has steadily gone up since he bottomed out in 2009 with a 45.9% rate.

Velocity, it seems, is a good thing. Velocity and consistency might go a long, long way for Happ. He gave up four or more earned runs in ten of the 26 starts that he made in 2014, but he also gave up two or fewer in 12 of them. He didn’t have a lot of outings where he got his head handed to him, just a healthy number in which he was just kind of OK. And when you add that to all those good ones, for a back-of-the-rotation guy making $5.2-million this year and less than $7-million next, that’s really, really nice.

Who’dve thunk it? J.A. Happ is damn valuable. All it seems to have taken was a velocity spike at age 31. More pitchers should try that!