Last night, Ian Happ entered a blowout Cubs/Pirates game (9-4 at the time) as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the seventh inning. And with one runner on and one out, he did this:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) April 12, 2018
That homer didn’t change the game, and wasn’t necessarily a threat to reach Waveland (374 feet). But it did leave his bat at 104 MPH and with an almost perfect 27-degree launch angle. And more importantly, it probably felt really, really good.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Josh Smoker, the Pirates’ pitcher at the time, was in there for one reason: to mop up the mess the other Pirates pitchers had created. Last season, for example, he had a 5.11 ERA (-0.2 WAR) over 56.1 IP and the year prior he was just a little better (4.70 ERA, 0.0 WAR). But still, Ian Happ’s bat had been in a DEEP slumber.
Consider that, after homering on the first pitch of the season, Happ has struck out 18 times in 36 plate appearances. Paul DeJong (19 Ks), Yoenis Cespedes (20), Miguel Sano (20), Yoan Moncada (21), and Giancarlo Stanton (23) all have more strikeouts, but they’ve each received over 40 plate appearances (three of them, over 50). So, Happ’s 50% strikeout rate is highest in the Majors here in the early going.
And if you just look at the seven games between his two homers, it’s not like his slash line was too inspiring, either: .148/.233/.148 (12 wRC+) – although, hey, he did walk at a solid 10% clip during that stretch! A thing! Um …
But, again, a good thing is a good thing, and that homer was decidedly that. Hopefully, for Happ, he’ll gain some confidence from last night, something will click, and he’ll begin turning his season around starting today, when he’ll be leading off once again.