Ian Happ Redeemed Himself Twice Yesterday - In the Field and at the Plate

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Ian Happ Redeemed Himself Twice Yesterday – In the Field and at the Plate

Chicago Cubs

In the top of the first inning of yesterday’s 8-6 win over the Pirates, Cubs center fielder Ian Happ popped out with the bases loaded and two outs in the first.

And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with swinging at a pitch you think you can drive – regardless of when that pitch comes in an at-bat – but because Happ’s pop-out came on the very first pitch, it was definitely frustrating for those watching.

And then, in the bottom-half of that inning, Happ misjudged a fly ball in center field (with Jason Heyward in right and Albert Almora Jr. on the bench), ultimately leading to the Pirates first two runs of the game. Needless to say, Cubs fans were not pleased.

But later in the game, Happ redeemed himself on both accounts, starting with a fantastic catch out in center in the bottom of the sixth:

No matter what you think of his defense out there, that was a fantastic play. Happ tracked that ball perfectly, ran a very long way, and still made a leaping catch before barreling into the wall.

And then later in the game, Happ hit the go-ahead (and ultimately game-winning) RBI double, scoring Willson Contreras from third with an opposite field knock off the wall.

This tweet perfectly sums up the Cubs fans reaction to Happ last night:

But also, I’m not sure I entirely understand the frustration with Happ right now. There’s absolutely no question that he is not as good of a center fielder as Albert Almora Jr., but until Joe Maddon starts going with an outfield of Kyle Schwarber – Albert Almora – Ian Happ from left to right, Happ’s bat has to get into the game somehow (and it’s not like you want to sit Kyle Schwarber or Ben Zobrist every game either). Because, yes, it’s been really good.

For the season, Happ is slashing .244/.360/.504 with a 14.7% walk rate. His strike out rate is still a mile high because of his start to the year, but over his past 51 plate appearances, it’s down to 27.5% (which is more than okay given his laughable .417 ISO and 199 wRC+ during that stretch).

And get this: Among Major League batters with at least 150 plate appearances in 2018, Happ’s 128 wRC+ ranks 50th best in all of baseball. And over the past 30 days, Happ’s 163 wRC+ ranks 16th best in MLB, just behind Aaron Judge and ahead of guys like Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rizzo, and literally any other Cub.

Cubs Offensive Leaderboard (Last 30 Days):

  1. Ian Happ: 163 wRC+
  2. Anthony Rizzo: 159 wRC+
  3. Kris Bryant: 150 wRC+
  4. Willson Contreras: 140 wRC+
  5. Albert Almora Jr.: 133 wRC+
  6. Kyle Schwarber: 119 wRC+
  7. Addison Russell: 116 wRC+
  8. Ben Zobrist: 109 wRC+
  9. Javy Baez: 90 wRC+

You don’t want to blindly sacrifice defense for offense – especially not with a glove like Almora Jr. on the bench (and he’s no slouch at the plate, himself) – but Happ’s bat is getting close to must-play levels lately. And it sounds like Theo Epstein agrees (NBC Sports Chicago): “If the player strikes out a lot, but he hits the ball out of the ballpark and drives in runs and gets on base, is athletic and is a versatile defender, then that player’s contributing to a winning team and you should probably get used to him, because he’s gonna be around a lot.”

“It’s just part of his game,” Epstein said about Happ’s strikeout tendencies. “This will probably be the highest strikeout rate he has in his career. It’s gonna come down.”

Agreed – it will come continue to come down. And it’ll be fun to watch him rake as it does.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami