The Chicago Cubs have not had much to cheer about in the second half of the season, but one guy that has really come on is Ian Happ. Happ has been a relatively successful big league hitter over his short career, but his 2021 season was downright dreadful until this past month.
Heading into August, Happ’s slash line was .180/.294/.326 with just 10 home runs. Since then, he has hit the same number of home runs in just over a month and has raised his line to .219/.309/.416, good for a .725 OPS. According to Fangraphs, his wRC+ is up to 97, which is just below league average. It’s hard to ignore his struggles for most of the season, and fans shouldn’t, but if nothing else, he has saved his roster spot for 2022.
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There was a point this season where it didn’t look like Happ would make it through the season in Chicago. Big things were expected out of him after a mini-breakout in 2020. His playing time dwindled and was almost non-existent for a period of time when the Cubs had a full strength team.
He has been keeping this up for the better part of a month now, and it seems like a true hot streak. The big difference is his ground ball rate has gone down 15 percent from July to August, and his hard contact went up almost 20 percent from June to July. His power is fixed again, logging his second 20+ home run season in his career and has taken advantage of an opportunity presented to him in the second half of the season.
The Cubs are dire need of guys showing they’re ready to claim roster spots heading into 2022 and Happ is doing just that. He likely has his spot, along with Nico Hoerner, Nick Madrigal, Willson Contreras, and maybe Patrick Wisdom and Frank Schwindel. Who knows what happens with Jason Heyward and the remaining two years of his contract.
If the Cubs want to go a different direction, which is still possible, they could explore a trade for Happ and see what is out there, which wouldn’t be a bad idea. They don’t have to trade him, but exploring a trade wouldn’t hurt.
Happ has had success, but he has never had more than a 2.0 WAR season and is only at 0.6 WAR this season according to Fangraphs. He is still striking out at a 30 percent clip which is high, but if he keeps up this production the Cubs will live with it.
Another reason for his success could be that he is going to the opposite field more frequently. This is the highest opposite field hit rate of his career, at just over 28 percent. Happ’s performance down the stretch is encouraging but the Cubs need to figure out how to prevent the long cold streaks he can go on.