Chicago Cubs: Ian Happ showcasing critical adjustments at the dish

Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /
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After a demotion to Triple-A Iowa earlier this season, Chicago Cubs utilityman Ian Happ is showcasing some major adjustments to his game at the plate.

There’s no knowing what this offseason will bring to the Chicago Cubs – well, actually, there is: change. The extent of said change and who will be impacted by it remains to be seen, but in the meantime, let’s talk a little about Ian Happ.

Now, for most of his tenure with the club, I’ve kind of viewed Happ as an heir apparent to veteran Ben Zobrist. Granted, he lacks the same presence at the dish the latter offers – but he’s an incredibly versatile defender, capable of playing essentially every position on the diamond. That skillset has gelled with manager Joe Maddon‘s mix-and-match philosophy, though who knows if that matters past Sunday’s season finale. 

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Regardless, the organization deemed it necessary to send Happ back to Iowa to open the 2019 regular season. The move came as a shock to many – and rightfully so. Just a year prior, the former first-round pick put up a 106 wRC+ across 462 plate appearances. Nothing jaw-dropping, sure, but it’s hardly an unacceptable level of production from a guy in his first full big league season.

But he struggled a great deal this spring. Those woes, paired with ongoing plate discipline concerns (36.1 percent strikeout rate in 2018) prompted the decision.

Happ reportedly didn’t take the news well. He reported to the I-Cubs and struggled for the first half of the season there, as well, failing to hit above .242 in any single month.

After cratering in June to the tune of a .628 OPS, something clicked. He torched opposing pitching in July, hitting .324 with a .451 on-base percentage for Iowa – giving the organization and fans hope he’d figured it out.

"“At the beginning of the season, the mind wasn’t right,” Triple-A hitting coach Desi Wilson told the Des Moines Register. “He was somewhere else mentally. And I think now, he’s there. I see it in his at-bat, regardless of the results. He knows what he’s doing. He knows how he feels, and he knows what he needs to do to repeat that same feel.”"

Chicago recalled Happ from Iowa on July 26. Since that point, the 25-year-old has shown some major improvements at the plate. Although his walk rate has dropped rather precipitously (15.2 to 9.5 percent year-over-year), he’s also reduced his strikeout rate by a full 11 percent.

Happ’s trending well above average in terms of ISO, driving the ball all over the diamond. A league average ISO, given the game-wide spike in power this season, is around .183. Happ enters the final games of the season at .271 – with half of his 34 base hits going for extra bases.

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Given the fact the team’s production out of the second base spot has been woeful all year, someone like Happ could make sense as an in-house option to open 2020. He’s a switch hitter and, given regular playing time, might finally turn into what we’ve been expecting since the Cubs drafted him back in 2015.

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