Chicago Cubs: Analyzing the contributions of Ian Happ
The Chicago Cubs positional depth is still incredibly strong. Ian Happ proved to be a very valuable piece his rookie year and is expected to grow and improve as a player.
One of the many fun things about being a Chicago Cubs fan the past four-some years has been the constant bringing up of talent from the minors. Even after their championship in 2016, the farm still had players in the waiting. Ian Happ was no doubt the most impact full call up of 2017.
The 23-year old utility man will enter his first full MLB season in 2018. Last season he provided good power at the plate as a switch hitter and played decently in the field. His strengths showed, as did his weaknesses. He was very streaky and stuck out a lot, like many power-hitting rookies, but the promise is there.
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While he may not be the everyday starter in any position, being a utility player allows him to fill in at multiple positions on a given day.
He can back up at any outfield spots, as well as second base and third base. Overall his versatility will guarantee he will play fairly often. He can be starting at second one day, then starting at center the next.
What Happ has shown so far
Last year he was originally just supposed to be a call-up for a short time. He ended up staying until the end. Looking at basic stats, in 2017 he played in 115 games and slashed .253/.328/.842. He slugged 24 home runs, drove in 68, put up a 113 wRC+ and was an overall 1.8 fWAR player. Looking at the basic stats he was productive.
Looking more in depth reveals more strengths and weaknesses. The biggest weakness from 2017 was the strikeouts. He posted a 31.2% K rate with a 9.4% BB rate. The walk rate was slightly above average (by FanGraphs standards), but the strikeouts were very high.
His swinging strike percentage last year was 16.0%, which is 6.5 points higher than the FanGraphs average. Also, his contact rate at pitches outside the zone was 49.7% which is 16.3 points lower than the average. This will be important for him to work on.
As mentioned he was streaky as well, consistency will be another major goal for Happ. An interesting split to look at is his home/road. At Wrigley he batted .232 with 15 home runs, a 34.9% K rate, 112 wRC+ and an .850 OPS. On the road he batted .274 with nine home runs, a 27.3% k rate, 114 wRC+ and an .834 OPS. So he created more runs and was more disciplined on the road, but slugged more home runs at home. Nothing monumental, but an interesting note.
Looking to 2018
There is a lot of optimism that Ian Happ will improve in 2018. Working with the plate discipline guru that is Chili Davis can do wonders. Plus, growth comes with experience in general. He will probably have the most important role of any non-regular starter on the team. With Ben Zobrist aging, Happ can be the new super utility man of the future.
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If he can get into at least 130 games, and he improves with the strikeouts, a reasonable projection could be around the .270/.345/.860 ballpark. Can he reach 30 home runs in 2018? It is very possible.
Overall the Chicago Cubs have another valuable asset on their roster and he cannot be overlooked. His contributions in 2018 can really help mold the future of the team’s position core.