Cubs News: Ian Happ flying under the radar early on in 2023

Seattle Mariners v Chicago Cubs
Seattle Mariners v Chicago Cubs / Quinn Harris/GettyImages

It's been all eyes on Cody Bellinger, Patrick Wisdom and Nico Hoerner through the first three or so weeks of the 2023 season and with good reason. Bellinger is looking like his former self, Wisdom has been among the biggest power bats in the league and Hoerner is emerging as a triple-threat, capable of changing the game with his glove, bat or legs on any given day.

But it's 2022 All-Star and Gold Glover Ian Happ who's somehow flown under the radar to this point, despite a .307/.418/.507 line at the dish. His 15 walks (to just 21 strikeouts) rank fourth in the National League and he's slotted in behind Hoerner and Dansby Swanson on a near-daily basis, giving the Cubs a consistent top of the order under manager David Ross.

His eye has been as good as we've seen it (89th percentile in chase rate) and he's been putting the bat on the ball with authority, too. His 16.5 percent walk rate checks in among the top 7 percent of qualified hitters and he's showing why the Cubs front office inked him to an extension earlier this month, preventing him from hitting the open market at season's end.

Ross had nothing but good things to say about Happ the day the extension was announced and the outfielder has backed up that praise with a strong showing in the first few weeks of the regular season.

"He's a big part of our leadership here. He's a big part of what I think we're going to become as an organization, as a team. There's no secret he's a really good player, but to be able to lock in a contract, and him wanting to be here, I think stands out."

David Ross on Ian Happ

Cubs: Despite impressive start, Ian Happ has some areas to improve

We haven't yet seen the dramatic improvement from the right-handed batter's box we saw in 2022, as Happ has really struggled against lefties, batting just .158/.238/.211 in 21 trips to the plate. On one hand, it's encouraging his overall numbers are where they are given those struggles - on the other, you hope we're not seeing any sort of reversion to the struggles we saw from the right side prior to last year.

Defense metrics haven't been high on his work in left field here in April, with Statcast ranking him in the bottom four percent in Outs Above Average (Baseball Reference also has him pegged at -0.4 dWAR) - so there's room to improve there. Thankfully, when you have Bellinger chasing down balls in the gap like a gazelle next to you, the damage has been near-unoticable to this point.

Is there room for improvement? Sure. But even so, Happ has showed that his performance last year was no fluke - and, paired with his leadership on and off the field, it's clear the next chapter of this relationship could be quite special.