PITTSBURGH- Yesterday, Tim took a look into some of the statistical trends regarding J.A. Happ, and how he may be another Pirates’ reclamation project on the fly. Happ has struggled in the second half thus far, after having a very strong first 11 starts during which he posted a 3.31 ERA.
It’s important to point out that the Pirates haven’t had an extended amount of time to work with Happ, considering he has only been with the team for less than a week. However, pitching coach Ray Searage has seen enough to know that much of Happ’s struggles are stemming from his inability to be consistent with his command, causing him to fall behind in counts.
“It’s being ahead in the count,” Searage explained to me before today’s game against the Dodgers. “Being behind in the count, you have to use a little bit of different kind of sequences and stuff that way. I think when he does get ahead of the count, he’s able to use his pitches more effectively and be able to keep hitters off-balance. So I mean first pitch strikes is very key with him.”
According to Searage, Happ’s struggles with his command have developed because of some difficulties with his direction towards home plate during his delivery. Happ has recently had a tendency to leak towards first base during his delivery, instead of having a direct route to home plate. This is making it challenging for Happ to consistently hit his spots.
“It’s the landing, it’s my elbow, it’s my arm where I’m reaching to,” Happ explained. “It’s several things that we are just trying to make sure that everything goes [towards home plate] with all the pitches.”
This problem does not require a major mechanical adjustment for Happ to deal with. Instead, this is something that Happ and Searage believe can be quickly adjusted.
“It’s a physical thing that is really the foundation of a majority of pitchers,” Searage said. “It’s where their balance is over the rubber. He’s just gotta stay on his back-side a little bit longer so this way he’s able to get that direction. He’s going to throw across his body no matter what anyways, because that’s the kind of delivery he has. But, you can’t just leak a little bit towards first base and then have to re-direct where you’re going from A to B to C as opposed to A to B.”
The Pirates have elected to skip Happ’s next start in St. Louis, and the extra time will give him an opportunity to fine-tune these mechanical issues. However, due to his availability out of the bullpen, it’s probable that this extra time will be limited. The Pirates plan to have Happ do a minimal amount of flat-ground work, but otherwise he will stick with his normal routine.
It’s clear that the Pirates believe in Happ’s abilities and will afford him the opportunity to work through his recent struggles.
“We’ve got enough videotape from the first half of the season, that we’re not far removed from, that this guy was solid,” Hurdle said. “He dotted up the glove, there was spin, and there was fastball command.”
Searage echoed Hurdle’s confidence in Happ that he can return back to his early-season form.
“He’s going to get opportunities – the kid’s got good stuff,” Searage said. “He’s just gotta get ahead of hitters a little more.”
If Happ can rebound from his recent struggles, he can be a valuable replacement starter for the Pirates going into the stretch run.
Happ’s Pitch Selection
Tim mentioned in his article yesterday that Happ has been relying more on his slider (some classify the pitch as a cutter) than he has all season. He’s gone with his slider over 20% of the time in his last four starts and has drastically decreased his curveball usage. I asked Ray Searage if the Pirates are encouraging him to use the pitch more often as a weapon. Searage explained that he is just allowing Happ to be himself, and if that is what he’s comfortable doing right now, the Pirates are going to let him roll with it.
When I asked Happ about it, he mentioned that it is possible that he’s going to the slider too often, but he said that he has felt comfortable using that offering.
“That’s possible that I’ve been doing too much of that too. So I kind of have to get back to my strengths, fastball and change-up,” Happ said. “I can throw those off-speed, breaking pitches too but definitely know what my strengths are and go with it. I feel like I have kind of started being able to throw it for strikes a little bit better. I think it is something that coming to a new team and a new catcher, we talk before the game, but it’s really what he sees out there and what he thinks I can get guys out with. At some point you have to trust that too. So that was maybe why there was a few more last game especially.”
It’ll be interesting to see if Happ will decrease the usage of his slider and shift back to more of a fastball-curveball-change-up mix, with the slider sprinkled in, like he did early in the season when he was performing well.