We continue our travels through the three names we’re probably going to hear the most about this winter, and that’s Ian Happ. We’ll get to Schwarber tomorrow. Then again, the two are pretty much linked, because if one is tossed overboard it’s going to be in favor of the other. And seeing as how they both play the outfield, you feel like he choice is going to be between the two. There just don’t seem to be enough ABs for both of them, along with Almora probably needing more, Heyward still jammed into right field, and both Zobrist and maybe Bryant also taking some time in the outfield, along with whatever fourth or fifth outfielder the Cubs add.
So we come to our Colonel Happ. The great, and annoying, thing about Happ is you can see just about whatever you want in him.
Given the end of the season, and how he was basically frozen out in the playoffs, you forget that had Cody Bellinger never been born Happ might have had a middling case for NL Rookie Of The Year. He probably still would have fallen behind Paul DeJong, who was a touch better in all offensive categories in just about the same amount of time, but Happ would have gotten down-ballot votes. He still might.
Here’s what you’re not going to believe about Happ, because I certainly didn’t. If you go by FanGraphs and UZR and UZR/150, Happ was actually an effective center-fielder this season. Yeah, I know. It’s easy to be distracted by how gangly it all looked, but that’s what the numbers say. I wouldn’t josh you. He was actually better than Dexter Fowler was last year. I know, you’re going to think I’ve lost it and gotten into the Absinthe again. But it’s true. Happ had a 3.9 UZR this year to Fowler’s 1.0 last year. UZR/150 was 17.0 to 1. So for all the fun we made… it might actually have been better than we thought. He was even on par with Albert Almora, which doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. But here we are.
So let’s just accept that for the moment, and at least say that at 23 Happ has much to learn, and certainly greater athletic ability than Schwarber to improve his defense. Which also means he can probably at least make a fist of it, one day, at all three outfield spots. We turn to the offensive side.
You can certainly see the appeal of Happ. He’s got big-time power from both sides of the plate. While a walk-rate of 9.4% isn’t stratospheric, it’s certainly above-average and his numbers in the minors suggest it could go higher. The 75-point gap between his batting average and on-base suggest that if he could get the bat on the ball more, you’d have a real weapon on your hands. There’s even a little speed to work with. He could also probably use a bump in his line-drive and hard-contact rates, but they’re certainly league average now. The room for growth is obvious.
But oh… that bat and the ball thing. When your swing and contact numbers are around Javy’s… that ain’t good. And Happ’s are. To be fair to Happ, he swings at far less pitches outside of the zone than Baez, so overall his swing% isn’t as high. But he whiffs at so many pitches. His 67% contact rate would have him bottom-five in the league if he qualified. Still, if you want signs of hope, the fact that he really doesn’t chase outside of the zone terribly more than league average lets you know he does have a good sense of the zone. He just has to get to the ball more, which you can teach.
Which makes Happ’s future two-pronged. One, you could argue his versatility, age, and already established skills means he’s the one you keep because he’ll be able to do so many things. Schwarber is never going to be anything other than a liability in the field, and he might just be an out-and-out slugger, despite what the Cubs have claimed and think. Then again, so might Happ. On the flip side, because of his ceiling and flexibility, Happ might have the most value in a trade for a starter.
If you’re simply handicapping it, Happ is the more likely to be the more productive MLB player than Schwarber. Schwarbs basically has to hit 40+ homers and walk somewhere around 13% of the time to be a destructive offensive player. That’s if you think he’ll never hit .280 or .300, and I’m starting to lean that way. Happ might not either, but has the chance to provide something with his glove, and possibly his feet. Which… makes for an awfully tough decision. Which you already knew. This planet isn’t big enough for the both of them, it seems.