Ian Happ has been exactly what the Cubs lineup has needed in 2020
In a Cubs lineup that has been without typical production from Kris Bryant and Javy Báez, Ian Happ’s emergence has been a huge development for this 2020 team.
Entering play Wednesday, Happ has been one of the most valuable hitters in the National League over the last two months of action.
Since the start of September 2019, here are the OPS leaders in the NL (min. 100 plate appearances):
1. Fernando Tatis Jr. – 1.094
2. Juan Soto – 1.053
3. Ian Happ – 1.047
4. Bryce Harper – 1.023
5. Mooke Betts – 1.012
Those are some of the best players in the league and Happ is right there in the conversation.
And that was before he drilled his second career leadoff homer off the right-field video board in Game 1 of Wednesday’s doubleheader:
Another day, another Ian Happ 🚀— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) August 19, 2020
105.8 mph off the bat pic.twitter.com/BSyu4aj3wx
Happ spent most of last season in Triple-A, working with the organization to make adjustments at the plate and take the next step forward in his career development.
He rejoined the big-league club in late July and saw sporadic starts, mostly coming in late in games as a substitution.
Happ was solid in limited playing time and then turned it up a notch when he got a chance to start regularly over the final week of the season. He smacked 4 homers and drove in 10 runs in 6 games while earning NL Player of the Week honors.
He carried that over into spring training, hitting .481 with 2 homers and 11 RBI in 10 Cactus League games.
Even the three-and-a-half-month shutdown didn’t slow Happ, who came out and hit a big home run in the Cubs’ Opening Day victory and has been one of the team’s most consistent and dangerous hitters since.
“I think you’re seeing a confident player in Happ,” Jon Lester said recently. “When he’s confident, it makes all of us better.”
Here are all the offensive categories Happ currently leads the Cubs in:
Happ has stepped up and solidified the center field spot for the Cubs for the first time since Dexter Fowler was patrolling the outfield in 2016.
“Coming into this [season], there’s a couple x-factors for me — looking at some things, talking to my coaching staff,” David Ross said. “I knew Ian Happ was going to have to play a big role for us. I thought his success and being consistent was going to be a real factor for us.
“Him playing well has kinda solidified my thoughts this offseason. I think we knew he had that production in him and he had the capability of going out and doing that. But just going out and doing it was what we needed to see and he’s proven that so far this year.”
And Happ has done all of this while hitting all over the lineup.
He began the year in the 9-spot and then moved up to 5th and 6th. With Bryant’s wrist injury keeping him out of the lineup at times over the last week, Happ has been Ross’ choice to lead off and the 26-year-old has responded by continuing his assault on opponents’ pitching staffs.
“Wherever I put him, it doesn’t matter. In the 9-hole, behind Willy [Contreras] in the 6-hole or leading off, he’s had great at-bats,” Ross said. “Swinging the bat really well from both sides of the plate.
“He’s as locked in with what he’s trying to do at the plate and who he is than I’ve seen him. I think he’s that guy that’s just real comfortable in his approach right now.”
Happ is still prone to swing-and-miss — his 27.7% strikeout rate is high, but a vast improvement over his 2018 number (36.1%). But he’s also working to make adjustments. When he gets down to 2 strikes in the count, he emulates his teammate Anthony Rizzo and chokes up, trying to shorten his stroke and put the ball in play.
And when he has made contact, Happ hasn’t been cheated. Nearly half of the balls he’s hit (46.7%) have been clocked at least 95 mph in exit velocity.
He’s also been patient, with a career-best walk rate (16.9%) that serves him well in the leadoff spot ahead of Rizzo and the heart of the Cubs order. Happ reached base 4 times in Tuesday night’s game – a single and a homer his first 2 times up and then drew a pair of walks late in the 6-3 victory.
“Just putting together good at-bats — really focusing on that,” he said. “Really making sure that that’s my goal day in and day out is putting together really quality at-bats.
“Late in the game [Tuesday], drawing those 2 walks, being able to work the 3-2 counts and get on base for Rizz — that’s what I want to keep doing.”