"“Ian gets the opportunity to continue that role,” Ross said on Monday. “That was a guy that had a phenomenal year for the abbreviated season. He continues to grow and find out his strengths and weaknesses. I can see him continuing to get better.”"
Last summer, Happ showed the most consistency at the plate in his career and was the team’s hottest hitter for a majority of the 60-game stretch.
With Kris Bryant’s struggles as the table setter in the lineup, Cubs manager David Ross put Happ in the leadoff spot, and he did not disappoint. In 37 plate appearances, Happ posted a .273/.351/.727 line with four home runs, four walks and nine strikeouts as the first batter of the game.
Ian Happ will be the everyday leadoff man for the Cubs in 2021
Overall, Happ was batting .300 through September 7. A late-season cold streak following a foul ball of his face resulted in a season line of .258/.361/.505 with 12 home runs and 28 RBI.
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Just 26 years old, I think Happ has a high ceiling entering his fifth year in the big leagues. This will also be his first full season where he plays every day in center field while batting in the same spot in the lineup, barring any struggles or changes.
For the past few years, both Albert Almora and Happ shared time in the outfield while it was up in the air who would be the center fielder of the future. Happ won the job early last season, leading the Cubs to non-tender Almora this past offseason.
I’ve never been a fan of the experiments we’ve seen at the top of Cubs lineups in the past. While baseball is changing, the role of the leadoff man will always remain the same.
To give you an idea, Mookie Betts went 7-for-18 with five runs scored in the Dodgers four World Series wins last postseason as the leadoff man. In the two losses of that series, Betts went 0-for-8 with one walk. That’s no coincidence, and no one should understand this more than Cub fans.
This team has been in desperate need of a consistent leadoff hitter since the departure of Dexter Fowler after the 2016 World Series.
Cubs Leadoff Production (Last Five Seasons):
- 2016: (.267/.381/.434) 123 wRC+
- 2017: (.246/.324/.422) 94 wRC+
- 2018: (.302/.366/.454) 121 wRC+
- 2019: (.212/.294/.383) 77 wRC+
- 2020: (.211/.307/.418) 96 wRC+
Keep in mind the statistics from last season are skewed with Bryant going 1-for-15 as the first batter of the game.
I still think the Cubs would benefit from acquiring a traditional No.1 hitter like Whit Merrifield and moving Happ to the middle of the order, but that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon.
Still, he’s proven he was capable for the job last summer, and there is no one on the roster who is better for the job than Happ.