We’re probably still feeling the effects of another 8th inning collapse today. It’s certainly getting old. So maybe it’s beneficial to focus on something positive. That’s what everyone tells me in times of trouble, and surprisingly it usually works. I know, I wouldn’t have thought so either.
For most of the season, I’ve been just a touch skeptical on Ian Happ. You’d have to be blind to not see the potential, clearly. And the power has always been on display. But it felt like there was far too much swing-and-miss at times, and swing-and-miss in the same fashion. You could throw sliders at his ankles every pitch and there was no way he was going to lay off. Or you could beat him with high fastballs. All of it made me wonder, just for this year, if it was worth having the cinder block on his left hand in the field, where he didn’t seem to fit anywhere.
Well, that’s pretty much changed the past five weeks.
Since August 1st, Happ is slashing .282/.356//.615. The equals a .971 OPS and a 138 wRC+. The dude can go out in the field in a clown suit with those sort of numbers and ain’t nobody complaining. He’s still got a 31% K-rate, which I think is just going to be the way things are here. When balanced with a 10% walk-rate, I’ll deal with it for now.
So how did we get here? Well, simply, Happ has gotten more selective on everything. Here’s his swing-percentage on all pitches before Aug 1. and after:
The curve is also tempered that he’s lowered his swing-rate when batting left-handed against righties by a couple percentage points. His whiff rates have remained pretty consistent, but when you’re swinging at less pitches overall you’re obviously whiffing at them less (it’s that kind of hard-hitting analysis that you come for, clearly).
The discipline extends to location, too. Here’s the difference before and after Aug. 1st while hitting left-handed:
The discipline hasn’t quite extended to curves and sliders at his ankles yet, but he is making more contact on them. Here’s his whiff rate pre- and post-August 1st on curves, sliders, changes, and splitters:
As a result, Happ is hitting .400 on sliders where he was hitting just .207 before.
There are obviously still holes to fill. He’s swinging at too many breaking pitches out of the zone. But now that the fastball above the zone isn’t quite the problem, that’s probably the next step because he’ll see more of them. Also, things right-handed have not gone as well, which is probably less of a problem when (and if) Addison Russell is healthy and the lineup against lefties has Baez at second, Almora in center, and most likely Zobrist in right.
Happ’s problems right handed come from a worse eye than as a lefty. His walk-rate as a righty is half of what it is as a lefty. He hits for a better average right-handed, though that might have to do with a BABIP that’s 80 points higher. And he hits the ball way harder as a lefty (35% hard contact rate from that side vs. 24.2% as a righty).
The problems have remained the same right-handed both before and after his August 1st awakening from the left-side of the plate. You can beat him with high-fastballs…
But he is slowly laying off the breaking pitches at his ankles, though has some way to go:
There’s a little left in the season where restricting Happ to only batting left-handed wouldn’t cost him too much development time. And there isn’t time for development now anyway. It would lead to more time for Zobrist, which isn’t necessarily a good thing but he’s been better in the same time frame as well. But that also hinges on the health of Russell, so until then Happ might just have to gut it out against righties or hopefully the light bulb goes off.
It still feels like this winter, or next, or sometime, that there’s going to be a decision between Happ and Schwarber. Unless you think that Happ will eventually learn the nuances of center or second. I remain skeptical. And with Arrieta leaving almost assuredly, as well as with Lackey, and an aging Lester, the Cubs might need a plus defensive infield. But that’s a question for another time. Right now, Happ is shoring up one spot in the lineup.