Blue Jays’ J.A. Happ Could Wind up Being American League’s Cy Young Winner

If someone came up to you during the off-season and told you that Toronto Blue Jays left-handed pitcher J.A. Happ would end up being among the favorites for the 2016 American League Cy Young, you would probably walk away laughing.

There is now nothing to laugh about.

Happ tossed 7 1/3 innings innings of four run ball versus the Yankees on Wednesday to win his 17th start of the 2016 season – 5 more than his previous career high of 12 wins in 2009 when he was a member of the Philadelphia Phillies World Series team.

The 33-year-old Happ, who signed a three-year, $36 million deal with the Blue Jays last winter, is now 17-3 on the year with a 3.05 earned run average and 133 strikeouts over 150.1 innings of work in 2016 – easily a career-year for the veteran lefty.

Per ESPN’s Cy Young Award predictor, Happ is currently the favorite to take home the honor ahead of Zach Britton, Rick Porcello, Aaron Sanchez, Cole Hamels, Corey Kluber, and others. Tigers rookie Michael Fulmer is another name to look out for in the conversation, as he currently has the best earned run average in the American League at 2.25.

From 2012-2014, Happ was a member of the Blue Jays before Toronto elected to trade him to Seattle before signing him back in the off-season after the Mariners traded Happ to the Pirates. Happ had a 4.49 earned run average in 290.3 innings during his first Blue Jays tenure, and he now looks like a totally different guy:

“He’s a totally different style,” Blue Jays Manager John Gibbons said prior to Happ’s last start on Wednesday morning. “Now he’ll elevate when he wants to — not just because that’s the way it’s coming out — because his release point is more consistent,” Gibbons said. “Now he’s more in and out, and it’s helped his breaking ball. He used to throw five innings, but I guarantee he’d throw 100 pitches. Now he might have 60 or 70.”

Happ’s most effective pitch may be his ‘plus’ fastball as teammate Josh Donaldson describes it. Per Fangraphs, Happ throws his fastball 71.2% of the time, but Happ say’s he has to mix pitches to keep hitters off balance before they catch on:

“We try to mix the four and the two, give them a different look,” Happ said. “Anybody that just sits there and throws fastballs, eventually you’re gonna get hurt. So we try to give them a different look and mix things up. But I definitely pitch off my fastball, trying to change eye levels a little bit. That’s important for me.”

Only three starters throw more fastballs than Happ: Bartolo Colon, Aaron Sanchez and Jimmy Nelson.

Baseball’s top win leader is a strong candidate for the Cy Young now, no matter how improbable that seemed during the off-season.

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