Before the final weeks of the season get too far behind us, I just wanted to drop one more set of plaudits for the second half that Ian Happ put together after spending so much time at AAA Iowa.
Oh, wait, and as I’m typing – seriously! I’m editing this line in right now as I was just about to hit publish! – Happ just won NL Player of the Week honors for the final week of the season.
But back to the bigger picture.
Happ went through serious adjustments at Iowa, first to the idea that he had work to do, then to adding more contact to his game, then to adding elevation back to his game, then to adding power back to his game while keeping improved contact. It wasn’t until late July that the Cubs deemed him ready to return, but once he did, the fruits of his labor showed up in the results.
Not only did Happ wind up hitting a career-best .264/.333/.564 (127 wRC+) over his 156 big league plate appearances, he dramatically improved his contact and strikeout rates from the depths he was showing in 2018:
Happ’s power didn’t suffer for his greatly improved strikeout rate (25.0%), and interestingly, his walk rate (9.6%) actually dipped back to where it was in his rookie year after the explosion to 15.2% last year. That, to me, suggests that not only had Happ improved his contact rate (more balls in play will mean fewer chances to walk after you’ve whiffed), but he also had gotten more aggressive in successfully attacking pitches early to his liking. It’s probably not a coincidence that Happ’s pitches per plate appearance dropped from 4.15 in 2018 to 4.06 this year.
By wRC+ among guys with at least 150 PAs, Happ wound up the fourth best hitter on the team, tied with Willson Contreras, ahead of Kyle Schwarber, and behind only Nick Castellanos, Anthony Rizzo, and Kris Bryant.
The crazy hot week at the end of the year certainly made a huge difference for Happ, but that includes a series against the Cardinals, who were throwing out their best pitchers, desperate to win just one game.
I am really excited to see what the future could hold for Happ. If he were actually this guy – the guy he was this year – then you’re talking about a well-above-average switch-hitter, with good speed, with the ability to play solid defense all over the outfield, the ability to play passably at the corner infield spots, and the ability to play in a pinch at second base (that’s my opinion, anyway). That’d be a hugely valuable player (like, 4-win type player) if he could do it over a season. It kinda fell between the cracks of a sunk season just how good and useful he was.
We’ll see if Happ survives the offseason with a Cubs team determined to reshape the roster (his value figures to be fairly high once again).