Cubs shouldn’t give up on Ian Happ as their leadoff man just yet

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

As soon as we’d all thought the bats had come alive (a 13-4 rout will do that), the script flipped on the Cubs and the team dropped the rubber match against Atlanta on the national stage by the same score on Sunday night.

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It certainly hasn’t been the start Chicago had hoped for. At 6-9 on the young season, David Ross’ club sits in the cellar of the National League Central heading into Tuesday’s series opener against the Mets – and hold the fourth-lowest winning percentage in the Senior Circuit.

The team’s struggles have, largely, begun and ended with its offense, which has scored more than four runs just three times in 15 contests. There’s plenty of blame to go around with a handful of exceptions and leadoff man Ian Happ certainly isn’t doing his job to set the tone for the lineup thus far.

Cubs: Ian Happ needs more time

On the year, Happ is batting just .167/.310/.229, striking out in 27.1 percent of his at-bats and drawing walks just over 15 percent of the time. He hasn’t hit for any power, really – but a deeper dive on his peripherals suggest the results will come soon.

Last season, Happ put together a breakout campaign – turning in a career-best 132 wRC+ in the pandemic-shortened campaign. And if you compare some of the numbers he put up in 2020 with what he’s done in the first two weeks of this year, you’ll find some direct similarities.

  • 2020: xwOBA – .358 / BB% – 13.0% / K% – 27.3% / LD% – 22.2% / Barrel % – 10.3%
  • 2021: xwOBA – .358 / BB% – 15.3% / K% – 27.1% – LD% – 21.9% – Barrel % – 12.1%

There’s been no talks of moving Happ out of the leadoff spot – and that’s a good thing. Apart from Willson Contreras and Kris Bryant (as well as Anthony Rizzo more recently), there haven’t been all that many alternatives, really. And if I’m Ross, I’m not messing with those three. Keep them where they are and let them hit.

Cubs: Ian Happ looks like the long-term answer atop the order

As for Happ, the Cubs skipper is happy with what he’s gotten to this point – although the numbers don’t paint a pretty picture.

"‘‘With a guy like Ian, who does have a great idea of the strike zone, sometimes the results aren’t going to show up when the swing might be there, but he’s still getting on base,’’ Ross told the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘He feels like he’s in a really good place. His at-bats are quiet because he’s not hitting home runs right now because he’s trying to get on base for the guys behind him. I’ve been happy with Ian’s process, and his approach has been great.’’"

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The offense has been bad – historically bad. But it’s too soon to hit the panic button and make drastic changes, especially in the leadoff spot, where the at-bats Happ is giving are far better than the back of his baseball card might tell you at this point in the year.