After a blistering first week, which is not that uncommon, we saw for Cubs youngster Ian Happ what we’ve seen for so many other young hitters: the league found a hole and exploited it mercilessly. For Happ, it was a high fastball that he struggled to handle.
Except, as soon as that was on his radar at the end of May, he adjusted right back – the step many young hitters fail to make, much less make that quickly – and he’s hit a ridiculous .304/.368/.725 in June.
The strikeout rate (29.5%) this month is still much higher than you’d like, and the rate at which his fly balls have left the park this month is downright comical (45.7% HR/FB ratio, LOL). But it’s not all a fluke, because the guy is making a lot of hard contact (31.3%), is not pounding it on the ground (45.7%) – though interestingly, both of those numbers are down from May.
The biggest difference has come down to simple contact.
In May, thanks to a meager 61.5% contact rate, Happ’s swinging strike rate was double what you’d hope to see, at 20.5%. Simply put, he was swinging and missing way too much. Thus, he had a 34.4% strikeout rate, more than 10 percentage points higher than league average.
In June, however, Happ has a 71.0% contact rate, bringing his swinging strike rate down to a more manageable 14.3%. He’s not only making more contact, he’s swinging less frequently at pitches out of the zone, and more frequently at pitches in the zone.
But what about the hole the pitchers had exploited at the top of the zone?
Yup, Happ adjusted on that, too, as he’s now making far more contact with pitches high in the strike zone.
Pitchers are no longer as easily able to abuse Happ up in the strike zone.
There will, of course, be more adjustments to make on the way. And there will be regression in the HR/FB ratio, and probably the BABIP (.342 in June).
But so far, Happ is showing some things that should make you very excited about his longer term ability to stick in the big leagues.
Currently, Happ’s 138 wRC+ on the season is second on the Cubs, trailing Kris Bryant by only a single point.
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