J.A. Happ doesn't appreciate the term "innings-eater," which can imply that a pitcher is providing quantity, not quality. But he derives understandable satisfaction from contributing both during his decadelong career, which will continue in Minnesota this summer.
"The physical aspect, keeping myself in shape and preparing for a season and having durability is something I'm really proud of," Happ said Friday, shortly after signing a one-year contract worth $8 million to pitch for the Twins in 2021. "It's something I sort of love to do."
The Twins, who stand to lose Rich Hill, Jake Odorizzi and Homer Bailey from last season's starting staff, love it, too. Happ hasn't had a serious arm injury in more than a decade, and until last year's truncated season, had made 25 or more starts eight times in nine seasons, the lone exception being 2013 when he missed three months after being hit in the head by a line drive.
So maybe he's not eating those innings, but he's not letting anyone else make a meal of them, either.
"This guy goes out and takes the ball every day, has for a long time, and has found a way to pitch in some really competitive settings, difficult games," said Derek Falvey, the Twins' president of baseball operations. "We're thrilled to have him."
Especially since Happ is a believer in using statistical analysis to fine-tune his pitching, a cornerstone of the Twins' philosophy. He's already been in touch with pitching coach Wes Johnson to discuss how the team can help him keep and refine the form that produced a 3.47 ERA last year, a turnaround from a disappointing 2019.
"We've kicked around a few things, Wes and I, just on the phone. Just him trying to get a feel for me and how I feel about my repertoire and where I'm at with all that. He definitely had some input already and I think will continue to have more," Happ said on a conference call with reporters.
A winter ago, he said, "I spent a lot of time trying to break that stuff down with some of the advanced analytics stuff and some slo-mo cameras and just trying to make sure my release point is where it should be. It's a game of inches and that really makes a difference with where you're at on the mound and where you're releasing the ball.
"So I just tried to tidy those things up."
Even after serving as arguably the Yankees' second-most effective pitcher in 2020, behind Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole, New York chose not to pick up his $17 million option for the coming season, making him a free agent for the third time in his career. The market has been slow this winter because of uncertainties about the pandemic and whether teams will play in front of fans, and Happ had to settle for a one-year contract at less than half his previous salary.
Happ sounded motivated, not embittered, by the experience, which has to make the Twins happy.
"This was an interesting market. I get another opportunity, and I plan to get another one after this," said the lefthander, who will become the 10th pitcher ever to start a Twins game after his 38th birthday. "That's the way it goes. But that doesn't take any excitement I have of being here."
That excitement, he said, stems from the prospect of reaching a World Series for the first time since his rookie year with the Phillies in 2009 — a curious sentiment coming from an ex-Yankee, since that team is largely responsible for the Twins' long postseason losing streak.
But he grew up a Cubs fan in central Illinois, so he's aware that long droughts aren't permanent.
"After family, that's No. 2 on my list: Does this team have a chance to contend?" Happ said of his decision to sign with the Twins. "You know they certainly do. They have had a lot of playoff chances the last several years.
"… Some guys play their whole career and never get a chance to go to the World Series, let alone the playoffs. So that's a big motivating factor."