Ian Happ’s debut season with the Cubs resembles something out of Six Flags.
Upon his promotion to the Major Leagues, Happ was an unstoppable force, Joe Maddon couldn’t take out of the lineup if he wanted to. Indeed, through his first ten games with the Cubs, Happ slashed .294/.400/.647 (167 wRC+).
And then the league figured him out a bit. Through his next 16 games, Happ slashed just .146/.241/.354, which is good for a 55 wRC+ (or, about 45% worse than league average).
Of course, that was just the beginning. After burning bright and fading fast, Happ’s next move was to wiggle himself into a nice, consistent model of sustainable production. In the 29 games that followed his deep slump, Happ slashed an impressive .299/.344/.581 (136 wRC+).
More specifically, he got a good amount of fly balls (40.7%), very few grounders (38.4%), a fair amount of soft contact (18.2%), but plenty of hard contact (30.7%). He was also walking a bit less than average (6.3%) and striking out a bit more (24.4%), but with his power, neither presented much of an issue. In fact, none of those peripherals were overwhelmingly positive or negative – a combination that, when presented behind a pretty slash line, makes things look downright sustainable.
Unfortunately – as you can probably tell by the fact that I just used the word unfortunately – this roller coaster has come back down to the ground one more time.
In the 15 games since July 18 (including last night’s 2-3 performance), Happ has slashed just .190/.286/.286 (54 wRC+). Happ’s .269 BABIP during this stretch of baseball is a bit low, but with just an .095 ISO and just a, gulp, 18.5% hard contact rate, it’s not really that unlucky.
And before last night, Happ was rocking a 52.2% ground ball rate and 35.6% strikeout rate during this stretch. Four straight plate appearances of not hitting the ball on the ground or striking out helped those numbers (now 44.4% and 32.7%), but that’s still not what you’d like to see.
So to sum this all up for you, Happ is often missing the ball during this stretch, and when he does make contact, it’s usually soft and on the ground.
If you’re looking for one encouraging sign, I will point out that his 10.2% walk rate shows signs of a still sound approach at the plate and his 4 stolen bases (in five attempts) proves that he can still add value in other ways. But, yes, this is a deep slump for the Cubs’ youngster, and his second of the year.
But this is Bleacher Nation and we like to look on the bright side here, so long as the data supports it. And, using a few meaningful statistics, I can show you the light at the end off this tunnel (or whatever metaphor aligns with the roller coaster theme):
Out of Zone Swing Rate:
During Slump: 24.1%
In Zone Contact Rate:
During Slump: 82.5%
These two statistics show (we’ll get to two others in a second) that even through his struggles, Happ has been improving his approach and his process at the plate. More specifically, he’s swinging at WAY fewer pitches out of the zone (which tend to end in either no contact or weak contact) and he’s making way more contact with pitches in the zone (which means when he reads the pitch correctly, he’s not also missing).
That out-of-zone swing rate, by the way, is so low that if it were his season long rate, he’d rank among the top 25 in all of MLB.
As for those “other” statistics, Happ has also lowered his first-pitch strike rate lately, and, similarly, his swinging strike rate (a.k.a. whiff rate) has dropped from 16.4% to just 12.8%. The latter, while still somewhat high, shows a MARKED improvement in an area that desperately needed it.
So again, yes, in every sense of the word Ian Happ is slumping. Big time. BUT, his walk rate, plate discipline, and slowly improving contact might just suggest good things in the near future. After all, he’s a rookie who’s already flashed dominance at the big league level in a non-flukey way. They usually show that again eventually.