Like many other current Chicago Cubs, Ian Happ’s career has been marred by inconsistency. Like almost every other member of the core group of players, Happ was a highly-regarded prospect that burst onto the scene his rookie year, flashing immense power with 24 home runs in 115 games and finishing the year with OPS of .842. Happ struggled with strikeouts, but that’s simply a part of his game, and with his great plate discipline and power, he was the prototypical player for today’s version of baseball.
Happ’s sophomore season in 2018 saw him regress a fair amount, with his numbers across the board falling, but he was still an above-average hitter, ending the season with a 106 wRC+. But Happ struck out in 36 percent of his at-bats, which was a lot even for him, so the Cubs thought it best for him to spend most of his 2019 in Iowa.
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The Cubs called him up late in the year in 2019 and what followed were two years of incredible offensive output from the center fielder. From 2019 through 2020, Happ played in 115 games, slashed .260/.350/.530 with an OPS of .880. He was still striking out a good amount, but after a 2020 campaign that saw him receive MVP votes, the waffle maker enthusiast seemed destined to be a star on the Cubs for years.
Chicago Cubs: Ian Happ hasn’t kept the momentum going in 2021
Despite the fact that the Cubs have been playing much better than many anticipated so far this season, Ian Happ has not been a reason why. As of now, Happ is set to have career-lows in offensive categories across the board and is showing no signs of getting better. Happ currently has an OPS of just .626, which would be a career-low by over 100 points, and is on pace to have an on-base percentage below .300 for the first time in his career.
Happ, along with many of the other outfielders on the team this season, has been putting up very little value offensively, and Happ hasn’t been a good enough fielder at any position to justify playing him every day. More advanced metrics paint Happ in an interesting light as, despite the fact that he’s hitting the ball harder than last year, all of Happ’s expected statistics are still quite low, meaning that he likely isn’t getting all that unlucky. It’s a downright bizarre drop-off that really couldn’t have been foreseen, but it’s the reality the Cubs are faced with now.
The Cubs would be better served to find an upgrade in the outfield, rather than hoping Happ breaks out of his slump. The Cubs are in a good position to be playing baseball come October, and waiting around to see if guys like Happ or Heyward to break out of a season-long funk is something that could really cost the team down the line. While Happ could break out of his slump based on how hard he’s been hitting the ball, the team shouldn’t take any chances.
Ian Happ has flashed potential to be a building block going into the future for the Cubs, but he has flounder thus far in 2021. The team is a lot better when Happ is playing up to his potential, and they need to find a way to get him back on track or find a temporary replacement until he gets right. The Cubs shouldn’t panic about Happ in their long-term plans just yet, but they need him to start producing as soon as possible.