J.A. Happ has been a controversial pitcher during his time in the majors. He was overrated in his younger days with the Phillies, thanks to run support and three-straight (two of them partial) seasons with better-than-average batting average on balls in play, along with high strand rates. His ERA was anywhere from a run to one-and-a-half runs better than his FIP over those three years, meaning many people felt that eventually, regression would catch up to Happ.
In 2011, more than regression hit him, as his ERA skyrocketed to 5.35. Oddly enough, his FIP hadn't changed much at all, as the needle moved just one-third of a run from where it had been during his previous 250-plus innings in the bigs. You might have guessed the cause for this already: his BABIP was average, and his strand rate, so good in years past, not only returned to expected levels but turned out even worse than that.
The 2012 season has been up-and-down for him to this point, but there's plenty of reason to like what he's done. His ERA and FIP are in line for the first time ever. His 8.4 strikeouts per nine is a career-high, and his 3.5 walks per nine are the lowest they've been since he threw 166 innings with the Phillies in 2009. Maybe most importantly, he's inducing far more grounders than in the past. While he's given up more homers than you'd like him to, at 1.6 per nine, that's uncharacteristic for him, especially given he's in a less hitter-friendly park and more forgiving division now than he was in years prior.
If the homers are a bit of a fluke, the strikeouts are up, walks are down, and grounders are coming more often than ever, there's a lot to like here. Happ's last two starts resulted in 12 innings, 10 punch outs, three walks, no homers, and more balls on the ground than in the air. Because of some of the earlier struggles, this recent bout of solid pitching hasn't been reflected in his waiver rankings just yet, but given time -- if the progress is real -- then it will.
You'll want to stash him before it gets to that point, before it's too late to grab him. He's not going to win your league for you on your own, but we're talking about a 29-year-old lefty who should add to your depth -- sometimes these pitchers take some time to figure themselves out, and Happ's 2011 was shortened by injury and ineffectiveness. Without the stress of a forearm strain lingering over his 2012, he's looked much more effective.
Happ is no sure thing, but if you're looking for someone to roll the dice on, Happ's as good as almost anyone available in your league. And he is as available as can be, if CBS (12 percent of leagues) and ESPN (one percent) are anything to go by.