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J.A. Happ in Pinstripes - Fantasy Implications

Deadline season might be the most exciting of the baseball campaign, with every team making moves and deciding whether to sell or buy. In this particular trade - Toronto sending J.A. Happ to the Yankees - the teams are moving in opposite directions with one team hoping to win the East, and the other, to stock up for the rebuild that is sure to kick off this year.  And yet, both are engaged, and fans have something to keep them checking those Twitter feeds.  

Even more, with so little pitching on the block this deadline this season, the move of Happ is sure to create headlines, and fantasy owners will be wondering what the impact will for their teams. Does moving to a contender help Happ, or will this create new problems?

In this article, the focus will be on all three playing moving in the deal, with a critical focus on the short-term impacts of Happ, and long-term moves for Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney. Owners with these players on their rosters already should be interested to see the effect, but even more, owners looking to add pitching down the stretch should keep on reading.  As fantasy owners approach their own trade deadlines, it is now or never to pull that trigger.

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Trading Places

Happ to New York

To date, Happ has been quite good, and in some remarks, is pitching his best season in the majors with Toronto. While no longer the high upside young lefty that graced the Philly rotation, Happ has yet to turn 36 and supports a good season with good peripheral numbers. Take for example the ERA, which, at the time of writing, sits at 4.18 with a FIP of 3.85. While the ERA is up from last year’s 3.53 mark, the FIP is only up a bit from a 3.76 in 2017. Besides, the K rate is up from 8.79 K/9 to 10.26 K/9 this season. Add to that a walk rate that has stayed much the same at 2.76 BB/9, and Happ looks to be producing at least as good as last year, and perhaps even better.  

At the same time, it makes sense that he was moved, with the contract, and the impending Toronto rebuild. What then should fantasy owners expect with the move to the Bronx, and will these numbers so far hold up?

Looking first to park factors, Yankee Stadium is a much worse park to pitch in when compared to Rogers Center. Using ESPN’s park factors, Yankee Stadium has a RUNS factor of 1.126, whereas Rogers Center has a 0.952 rate. This means that, on average, owners should expect around 16% more runs to be scored on similar production numbers in New York when compared to Toronto. The good news for Happ is the two parks play reasonably even when it comes to homers. Yankee Stadium has a HR park factor of 1.101 and Rogers Center posts a 1.105 number. This means that there is a slight benefit to pitching in the Bronx when it comes to homers, but in general, more runs score there as well.

Specifically, with Happ in mind, the homers are a bit of an issue, and perhaps the scariest number in the line. While a 1.34 HR/9 is not devastating, it is up from 1.11 last season, so there is some gain in that trend. And yet, it seems that moving to New York will not cause a spike in the homers as a move to Arlington or Cincinnati might have. The other good news is that Happ, being a lefty, might benefit from Yankee Stadium in some ways, as the short right field porch is taken away to some extent. While he still will have to deal with oppositive field power from right-handed hitters, the lefty power plays out a bit differently. In fact, of 17 total homers this season, Happ has only given up two to lefties. Therefore, when there are similar homer numbers in New York and the fact that one of the easiest homers to hit at Yankee Stadium is taken away by match-ups, there is little concern that this move hurts Happ. More likely he stays the same.

The other interesting piece to this move is one that might not have changed much with the lack of a Divisional move, but Happ was added, at least looking to the stats, as a weapon that Aaron Boone can use against Boston. Over his career against Boston, including his time in the National League, Happ has a career 2.98 ERA against the Sox. Even more, according to ESPN’s Cole Harvey, Happ has a 0.84 ERA versus Boston this season. While Happ will not start all of these games, the Blue Jays only play the Red Sox six more times, and the Yankees a total of ten more times. This means perhaps an extra Boston start for Happ? Even the risk is good for fantasy owners. This is also a key to keep in mind for DFS players.

The other note to make on Happ is that for fantasy owners, even if there is only a slight swing in production, the ability to pitch versus Toronto as opposed to New York is worth a look. The Yankees are currently fourth in the Majors with 524 runs, and the Jays are 19th with 459 runs to date. Add to this that the rest of the way, according to Baseball Prospectus, Toronto’s opponents have a winning percentage of .511 and the Yankees play teams with a .470 line, there is only good news for Happ owners.  In some ways, the best bet for fantasy production comes from the team that just dealt the starter. 

BALLER MOVE:  If a current Happ owner this might be a good time to sell as the production rest of way might be better, but also could be much the same. With the trade, and move to the Yankees, other owners might be willing to buy a bit high. If not looking to move, Happ is a good bet to keep doing what he has been  If owners have been happy with that to date, then this seems like an easy keep.


Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney to Toronto

For fantasy purposes, the pieces going back to Toronto are a bit of a mixed bag and might be of more interest to dynasty teams that redraft leagues right now. With Josh Donaldson looking more likely to move after this year, Drury is perhaps in the pole position to be the starting third baseman in Toronto for the next few years. This would mean that Vlad Guerrero Jr. plays more DH and second moving forward, but Drury could also slot in at second if needed. After the offseason move to the Bronx, Drury has been the victim of a number crunch and Miguel Andujar’s emergence more than a bust performance to date. While he is only hitting .173, that comes in just 19 games so owners cannot read too much into that sample size. With Arizona, he was consistently at least league average with a 102 WRC+ in 2016, and 92 in 2017. This is not the typical corner bat, but with playing time could be a decent mixed-league play for most fantasy teams.  The Toronto park factors listed above, also help owners to keep with Drury as he shifts to a new role in Toronto.  

McKinney has the higher ceiling of the two players in this deal, but the red flags come when he has more key trades, three, than games in the majors, two. Until this season, the minor league numbers show a player who could hit for .300 with six to eight homers a year and perhaps play a decent OF4 role in real life. This season has been a different approach. To date, he has 13 homers in 55 games at Triple-A but also has seen the batting average drop to .227 at that level. After stealing seven bases in his first year in pro ball, McKinney has stopped running, so it looks like the power and average are the major fantasy factors to watch. If the new approach is what owners should expect, McKinney is not a fantasy option, but if the combination of .300 average, and the average power an play, this could be a Tyler Naquin type line. 

BALLER MOVE: If owners have been sitting on Drury, this move gives him more of a shot to play the rest of the season, and in keeper leagues. While not a pivotal piece to save for next year, he should be targetted in late-middle rounds of drafts next season. If owners have McKinney, this is not a great move, and while it offers a better chance to get playing time, there is still a crowded outfield to contend with and therefore not necessarily more opportunities to playing time. Buy low on both, if owners buy at all.


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