Friday, March 5, 2010

Neyer Happ(ily) sets the record straight

There’s been a ton of talk this offseason about J.A. Happ’s ‘lucky’ 2009 rookie season. In short, the sum of Happ’s peripheral stats in 2009 aren’t the making of a sustainable sub-3 ERA beyond his rookie year. He walked too many, struck out too few, but was lucky enough to strand a majority.

Luckily, Neyer comes to Happ’s defense. His point? With the internet, anyone can say anything about a ball player. I’m guilty of pointing out that the Giants’ very own lefty set-up man, Jeremy Affeldt, also had a quite ‘lucky’ 2009. But Neyer does point out some interesting aspects of Happ’s craft that bode well for his future. He describes his tall lengthy frame and how he’s deceptive, making his mediocre fastball appear to be plus. Additionally, Neyer points out his significantly higher strikeout ratio in the minor leagues.

Neyer’s “big finish:”

“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.”

Neyer indicates it may be implied that people like he “don’t respect the talents of people like J.A. Happ.” I myself was once a very successful pitcher. I threw a perfect game in little league. I was Santa Clara County Juco Pitcher of the Year as a freshman at DeAnza College. I was recruited by Kansas, San Jose State and Santa Clara University. Before I tore my labrum, I was pretty darn good, but certainly not J.A. Happ good, or in all likelihood even rookie ball good. The majority of players that (just) make it to the minor leagues were probably the very best players in their high schools, towns, counties and even states in some cases. Each one of them is incredibly talented. And do you know what they get for it (at least initially)? Long muggy bus rides through Middle America and a $20 (soon to be $25) per diem, or just enough to get 3 sloppy fast food meals a day worthy of – well, no one.

In other cases, such as that of Mark Prior, a player is one of the very best players in his entire country but gets hurt and dissolves into our distant memories. Avoiding that takes quite a bit of luck – there’s that word again.

Happ not only braved the minors but differentiated himself enough to warrant a promotion to the big leagues and pitched well enough, no less, to receive considerable Rookie of the Year consideration. So, ya, Happ has earned a whole lot of credit. I’m glad Neyer wanted to (and did) set the record straight.

And for those who are wondering, Glavine made himself a (Hall of Fame) career of seasons in which the sum of his peripherals didn’t indicate sub-3 ERA’s or greatness. But the sum of his numerous great seasons (and overall longevity) has his ticket to Cooperstown all but punched. As for Happ? Only time (and perhaps a little luck) will determine his legacy. But, Neyer’s right, if he never threw another pitch in the big leagues he’d still be “one of the most brilliant athletes on the planet…”

Given all the time us “nerds” spend toiling over numbers and determining a player was lucky and won’t improve upon or even equal a successful season, it’s nice to see someone put it into perspective.

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