Photo Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports
Today isn’t a day for crowing. Or for eating crow. Or for doing anything with or about crows, really. Though you could be forgiven for thinking that it was, given the two most compelling stories that emerged from last night’s 4-0 Jays win over the San Francisco Giants: JA Happ’s continued excellence and one of Troy Tulowitzki’s best offensive games of the season so far.
John Gibbons certainly thought it was, however, giving a message to a certain breed of fan when speaking to reporters after the game. “For all of those Tulo haters out there,” he said (as I imagine him grabbing the mic from “Mean Gene” Okerlund), “suck on that one for tonight, will ya?”
GibbyTheBest! No one will ever say that he doesn’t go to bat for his players when they need him to. But… uh… did he need to? Are there actual Tulo haters out there? What kind of fan would be such a lemon-sucking shit-clown desperate to be the first to stop on the still warm corpse of a once-great career that they’d actively dislike Troy Tulowitzki, instead of rooting for him to break out and start kicking ass like the old days? I refuse to believe that these people exist.
Even if they did, though, was this the right time for Gibbons to defend Tulo from them? In the sense of him going to bat for his guy, and making clear to Tulo that he believes in him, sure. I get that. But as nice as it was to see the bat show some life, the four-seamer from Matt Cain that he took out of the park in the first inning was 90 mph and…uh… where that light blue square is in the image below:
Image via BrooksBaseball.net
I hate trying to take anything away from Tulo here, because he still had to put it in the seats — and he did — but holy meatball. “Absolutely feeding the bat with that fastball,” quipped Mike Krukow on the Giants broadcast. Uh… yeah.
And Tulo struck out, too, meaning he hardly dented the career-worst strikeout rate of 27.1% he now sports. But there’s good news, too, in that he didn’t whiff on any of the pitches he swung at. In fact, if you squint hard enough (i.e. if you use the right arbitrary endpoint) you might think his contact problems have genuinely abated.
After a 6-1 win over the Rays on April 29th, Tulo’s contact rate on pitches in the zone sat at just 70.9%, and his swinging strike rate was 11.4%. Since then those numbers are 89.6% and 6.8%.
That. Will. Play.
And so we come to JA Happ, who was terrific again for the Blue Jays. But I’m not crowing!
Oh, I’d like to crow, if only because the reaction in some corners to the Happ deal, when it was signed, was so utterly irrational that it deserves mocking.
But if I’m going to be the kind of person that reminds folks that it’s still way early in the season — which it absolutely and undeniably is* — when it comes to the struggles of guys like Brett Cecil or Drew Storen, I can’t quite yet act like we’re seeing who JA Happ really is right now now, and the kind of pitcher he’ll continue to be going forward.
Of course, Happ’s successful run didn’t begin on Opening Day. As the Giants broadcast noted last night, since last August 9th, the MLB ERA leaderboard goes: Arrieta, Kershaw, Happ.
I know, I know, ERA isn’t the greatest, but FIP likes him alright, too: Happ is in the top 30 of MLB starters by FanGraphs’ FIP-based version of WAR over the last calendar year — a period that still includes a couple dogshit months of his in Seattle. He’s in the top 20 by RA9-WAR (i.e. a WAR calculation using runs allowed, rather than earned runs) over that span, and the first of three Blue Jays in the top 20 by that metric for this season (the others being Aaron Sanchez and Marco Estrada, with Marcus Stroman not far behind at 36th).
FIP be damned!
Anyway, alls I’m saying is that JA Happ is good, and watching JA Happ pitch like a legitimately elite pitcher is going to keep on being a fun thing while it lasts, and you should probably try liking him.
*And once again, I can’t stress enough that this doesn’t mean I’m saying losses now don’t matter or matter less than ones in September. It means that there’s still plenty of time to make up ground, and that the trends you think you’re seeing still involve a whole lot of potentially misleading noise. Got it yet, champ?