Cubs: Ian Happ completes defensive turnaround with Gold Glove win

Philadelphia Phillies v Chicago Cubs
Philadelphia Phillies v Chicago Cubs / Nuccio DiNuzzo/GettyImages

Major kudos are in order for Chicago Cubs left fielder Ian Happ. Just one year after ranking as one of the worst defensive outfielders in the sport, he’s now at the top of the mountain. On Tuesday, he took home his first-ever Gold Glove Award for his stellar work in left during the 2022 season, becoming just the fourth Cubs outfielder and first left fielder to take home the hardware. 

In the past few years, the mere possibility of Happ accomplishing this feat wouldn’t have crossed anyone’s mind. He originally came up as a utility player for the Cubs, mostly sticking in the outfield, but also getting some reps in the infield, as well. At no point did the former first-rounder come off as a defensive stalwart in the majors. Now, his achievement sits right next to Jason Heyward’s back-to-back awards in 2016 and 2017, Andre Dawson’s 1987 and 1988 wins and Bob Dernier’s 1984 award.

Settling into a full-time left field role, Happ blossomed this year with the Cubs. For comparison, from 2017 to 2021, he only had one season where racked up positive DRS. Last year, he finished in the bottom five outfielders of the league in UZR/150 (-6.8) and in the bottom 20 in DRS (-2) and OAA (-5). By virtually all measures, his defense was lacking and it showed with Statcast ranking him in the sixth percentile of all players in OAA.

2022 flipped the script entirely with Happ ranking sixth in DRS among all outfielders with 14. Against other left fielders, it wasn’t even a contest with his 13 DRS trailing only Steven Kwan in the entire league at the position. The next-highest, Tommy Pham, was only at 3. Against his fellow finalists, his 1 OAA fell behind David Peralta’s 5, but he trounced both him and Christian Yelich in UZR/150 with 7.9. With everything factored in, Happ ranked in the 76th percentile in OAA, the best of his entire career.

Ian Happ did it all with the Cubs this year

It’s been a year full of firsts for Happ, who was also an All-Star for the first time this year. Slashing for a respectable 120 wRC+, he really came into his own in every facet of the game. It was even thought at one point the Cubs would send him off at the trade deadline alongside Willson Contreras to capitalize on his value.

Happ is due to be a free agent after the 2023 season, but the Gold Glove emphasizes the value he provides the Cubs and the hard work he puts in. There are few players that bring his mix of switch-hitting power, on-base ability and defense in a single package with leadership skills to boot. It’s all good reason for Jed Hoyer to consider Happ as an extension candidate in the offseason.

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His status with the Cubs aside, Happ’s Gold Glove is a testament to all the work he put into mastering left field this season. He turned one of his biggest weaknesses into a massive strength and for that, he’s more than earned the honor.