Maybe we’re making a bigger issue out of this than it really is — after all, by Thursday this could be a moot point if Pat Gillick & Co. exercise the same logic we’re about to — but we feel pretty strongly that J.A. Happ should be the man to replace the recently-demoted Brett Myers. Since the early noises coming out of Gillick’s camp are a bit mixed regarding Myers’ replacement, we figured it was a good opportunity to lay out the case for the lanky southpaw.
So listen up, Mr. Gillick…
First thing’s first: send Cole Hamels to the hill on Thursday.
Myers was scheduled to start this Thursday, July 3 at Atlanta, but the off day on Monday gives the Phils the opportunity to line up Hamels to start that day, when he’ll still be getting his regular four days of rest. The benefit to this is a large one: Hamels can then start July 8 against St. Louis, and then again July 13 against Arizona, the Phils’ last game before the All-Star break.
You want your best pitcher to be on the mound as much as possible — and if it keeps him from needlessly being used in the All-Star game (should he be selected), then that’s just an additional perk.
If you don’t go with Happ, your other options aren’t pretty.
Gillick has already dismissed the possibility that Chad Durbin or Ryan Madson could transition to the rotation, as Scott Lauber of the Wilmington-based News Journal quotes: “Durbin and the other people down there have done a pretty good job for us in the bullpen. I don’t think we’d want to change that” (link here). Since both Durbin (5.83 ERA) and Madson (6.82 ERA) have struggled as starters in their careers, that seems like a good idea.
Since the replacement isn’t coming from the 25-man roster, what else is down on the farm? Well, let’s take a look.
- Kris Benson, rehabbing from a torn rotator cuff that sidelined him for the entire 2007 season, certainly isn’t ready to go yet, unless an 8.43 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP in 10.2 minor league rehab innings is your cup of tea.
- Carlos Carrasco, the Phils’ top prospect, has pitched pretty well for Double-A Reading this year (5-7, 4.18 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 89:38 K:BB in 97.0 IP). But he’s still only 21, he got rocked in last start, and we’re genuinely fearful of what a premature call-up and couple of bad outings can do to a young pitcher’s psyche (see Bailey, Homer). He’s not ready yet.
- Travis Blackley was the Phils’ Rule 5 pick over the winter, but after a disappointing spring and a DL stint, he dropped off the radar. He’s resurfaced in Lehigh Valley, where he’s strung together six quality starts in a row. But he’s still having command problems (4.84 BB/9 this year), which would only be magnified at the major league level.
- Brian Mazone has pitched well for Lehigh Valley (8-6, 3.28 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 62:22 K:BB in 109.2 IP), but at 31 years old, he’s an extreme flyball hurler (0.68 GO/AO) who doesn’t have swing-and-miss type stuff (4.66 K/9) and has never pitched in the majors.
Let’s just put it this way: the Marlins, Braves, and Mets would absolutely love to see the Phils run out someone from the above list.
Happ has nothing left to prove at the Triple-A level. He’s ready.
We remain convinced that if not for last year, the Phils wouldn’t even hesitate to call up Happ. After being taken in the 3rd round of the 2004 MLB Draft, here’s what Happ did in his first three minor league seasons.
2004 (A-): 1-2, 2.02 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 37:18 K:BB in 35.2 IP
2005 (A/AA): 5-4, 2.30 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 78:28 K:BB in 78.1 IP
2006 (A+/AA/AAA): 10-9, 2.80 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 162:59 K:BB in 160.3 IP
Those are fairly dominant numbers. Happ wasn’t very hyped coming out of Northwestern, mostly because he didn’t have great raw stuff (like a 95 mph fastball or a hammer curve). But he showed good command and an ability to induce groundballs (in large part due to the fact that he’s 6’6″), and by the end of 2006 he had done enough to warrant being named #8 among Phillies prospects, as determined by Baseball America.
Then 2007 happened. Happ nursed an elbow problem throughout the season, and it showed in the numbers. He struggled in his one major league start last July, and he posted the following line at Triple-A Ottawa:
2007 (AAA): 4-6, 5.02 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 117:62 K:BB in 118.1 IP
That’s certainly a tough year. But Happ has returned healthy this season, and he’s been dominant at times while posting the following line at Triple-A Lehigh Valley:
2008 (AAA): 5-6, 3.54 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 104:38 K:BB in 101.2 IP
He obviously needs to cut down on the walks, but his numbers have been good on the whole, and he’s been lights out in June (3-1, 2.51 ERA). He’s 25 years old, which means he’s officially at the point where he’s “wasting bullets” in the minors.
We think — and this is just speculation, but it makes sense given the above — that Happ’s reputation as a “soft tosser,” combined with his lackluster performance in 2007, has Gillick sour on Happ’s chances to succeed at the major league level. Happ only throws 88-91 mph, but his delivery is deceptive enough that he’s able to throw his fastball by people, as Ricky Bottalico said on Comcast Sportsnet the other day. And, really, if his stuff wasn’t good enough, would he be leading the International League in strikeouts?
It’s time to give Happ his chance. He can start July 4 against the Mets, and again July 9 against the Cardinals, and by then the Phils should have some idea of how he can help the big league club going forward. We just think it would be stupid for Gillick to overthink the problem here when the the answer is right in front of him. To (stupidly) tweak a cliché: don’t look a gift #5 starter in the mouth.