How About a Round of Applause for the Chicago Cubs' Corner Outfielders?

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How About a Round of Applause for the Chicago Cubs’ Corner Outfielders?

Chicago Cubs

Do you know how many teams have two outfielders with at least 400 PAs and a wRC+ over 120 this season? Just six. In all of MLB.

And one of them is the Chicago Cubs.

Yankees – Aaron Judge, Andrew Benintendi
Astros – Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker
Angels – Mike Trout, Taylor Ward
Mets – Starling Marte, Brandon Nimmo, Mark Canha
Blue Jays – George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez
Cubs – Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki

That’s it! And heck, you could call it only five teams if you decide 55 games in the outfield is not enough to call Alvarez “an outfielder” for purposes of this discussion.

For however awful this Cubs season was at times, bright spots did exist. And the Cubs left and right fielders were among them.

So with just three games left in the season, let’s give a little love to the two Cubs corner outfielders who delivered this season.

Ian Happ

Heading into his second to last season under team control, Happ had a lot to play for in 2022. Although he had always been an above average offensive contributor, the ups and downs were rather severe, his strikeout rate had started ballooning again, and his production from the right side of the plate were causing some to question his ability as a switch-hitter, period.

But with a permanent move to left field (where his defense has been pretty darn solid, actually), and a fundamental shift in his approach, Happ turned in one HELL of a season, earning his first All-Star recognition.

  • 155 games, 632 PAs
  • .275/.347/.447 (123 wRC+)
  • 17 HRs, 72 RBI, 9 SB
  • 9.2 BB%, 23.1 K%

I mean, just look at this beauty of a spray chart for the season – this is what you want to see from a switch-hitter, amirite:

This season, it seems likely that Happ intentionally sacrificed some power (.172 ISO vs. career mark of .212) for fewer whiffs, which certainly seems to have been a success. With a career zone contact rate of 77.9%, Happ connected with 83.8% of pitches in the strike zone this season, pulling his overall contact rate up to 75.8% from 69.7%, and reducing his strikeout rate from 28.8% to 23.1%. And while he hit only 17 homers after finishing with 25 last season, he still managed to hit 42 doubles, tied for 5th most in MLB.

And don’t sleep on that switch-hitting progress.

as LHH: .265/.345/.449 (122 wRC+)
as RHH: .308/.353/.438 (124 wRC+)

Happ (3.7 fWAR, 46th in MLB … 14th among qualified outfielders) never let off the gas this season and likely earned himself a nice raise via arbitration as he heads into his final year of team control in 2023.

And I didn’t even mention that he’s having one of the best defensive seasons of his career, which SHOULD earn him serious consideration in left field for a Gold Glove.

Seiya Suzuki

Seiya Suzuki had a very different season from the consistent production we saw out of Happ, but in a lot of ways it was just as encouraging.

After a RED HOT start to his career, Suzuki faced some challenges as the league adjusted to him. It was an unnerving, but not entirely unexpected, drop that we hoped to see him overcome quickly. Unfortunately, Suzuki sprained his finger on May 26 and hit the IL for over a month. When he came back, Suzuki had a nice little stretch of baseball, before the struggles returned.

Only this time, they didn’t last.

After a second adjustment from the league, Suzuki rocketed back up the offensive leaderboards and has slashed .312/.390/.504 (152 wRC+) since August 9 — his last 159 PAs. And for the season, the numbers look PRETTY FREAKIN’ GREAT at this point.

  • 108 games, 434 PAs
  • .269/.343/.446 (121 wRC+)
  • 14 HRs, 46 RBI, 9 SB
  • 9.4 BB%, 24.4 K%

Again, those are his full season numbers DESPITE slashing just .222/.267/.347 (72 wRC+) in 232 PAs from the end of April to early August.

For Suzuki, this season was all about acclimating himself to a new life in Major League Baseball (the pitching, the travel, the grind, the information, the literal new country, etc.), and learning if he was capable of responding to the way he’d be approached. Not unlike a prospect at a new level, we were anxious to see his production take that first dive to see how (or if) he would respond.

Well, mission accomplished.

The valleys became shorter and less extreme and the peaks became higher and better-sustained. By the eye test, I can tell you that Seiya Suzuki also demonstrated excellent strikezone awareness (too often better than the umps, unfortunately) and a polished approach at the plate. And given the authority with which he hits the baseball, I have no doubt he can succeed as an offensive force in MLB for the years to come.

Pure success.

The 2023 Cubs Outfield

Both Happ (one more year, ~$10-$12M via arbitration) and Suzuki (four more years, $73M total) are under control for 2023, and are your expected opening day outfielders against the Brewers at Wrigley Field on March 30.

In center field, the Cubs may look to add a short-term veteran option, at least as a complementary type (maybe more). After that, a few Cubs outfield prospects — Alexander Canario, Brennen Davis, and Pete Crow-Armstrong among them — will start knocking on the door, while those who’ve already arrived — Nelson Velázquez, Christopher Morel — will continue their battle for playing time.

Long story short? It’s a rosy picture, the Cubs outfield, and it all starts with some excellent production from two established big leaguers who adjusted their way to significant success this season.

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Author: Michael Cerami

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