Chicago Cubs: Is Ian Happ’s strong start sustainable?Ryan Sikeson April 28, 2022 at 9:30 pm

There was a time when Ian Happ was a “can’t miss” prospect after being taken ninth overall in the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft. The Chicago Cubs outfielder made his debut in 2017, hitting 24 long balls and driving in 68 runs while batting a respectable .253.

However, after a full 2018 season saw his strikeout numbers skyrocket, Happ began the following year in the minors. And he remained there until the end of July, when he was recalled from Triple-A Iowa. Happ finished out the season in Chicago, hitting .263 despite striking out at a 25.0 percent clip.

The last couple of seasons have seen more of the same from the Pittsburgh, PA native. Plenty of potential weighed down by a high strikeout rate, including a 29.2 percent K rate in 2021.

Nearly at the end of the first month of the 2022 season, though, Happ is taking walks at a 15.4 percent clip, and his strikeouts are way down – 16.9 percent, to be exact.

Ian Happ is off to his best start in years with the Chicago Cubs. His strikeouts are down and walks are up. Is this sustainable or a flash in the pan?

Really, Happ’s strong start began after the trade deadline last season when the team shipped out several mainstays, opening up more playing time for others.

“Obviously, getting consistent everyday at-bats was big for me at the end of last year and carrying that into this year,” said Happ, who hit .317 in the final month of the 2021 campaign.

“But just approach-wise, mentality, being able to go in there with a little bit of a rhythm and kind of free things up right-handed was huge, something I hadn’t really done for the last few years, probably since ’17, right-handed. So being able to kind of free that swing up and be able to get it off early in counts [has been big].”

Through the first 18 games of this season, Happ is well above average in several analytical measures.

Credit: Baseball Savant

Happ’s .340 batting average and .956 OPS rank 10th and 13th among Major League hitters. He’s seeing roughly the same number of pitches per plate appearance this year compared to last season (4.21 to 4.19), but he’s making contact more often.

With a 46.5 percent hard-hit rate and an average 6.2-degree launch angle, Happ is hitting line drives for hits.

He’s hammering fastballs and offspeed pitches, owning .353 and .571 averages. Happ is averaging a -8-degree launch angle for offspeed pitches, meaning he’s hitting the ball on the ground where defenders aren’t positioned.

His .283 and .329 expected batting averages on fastballs and offspeed pitches suggest that Happ is getting a bit lucky in the early goings of the season. His .390 BABIP also supports that notion, given the league-wide average is typically around .300.

Credit: Baseball Savant

With most of the Cubs’ core traded away at last year’s deadline, Happ has stepped up well and become a player that the team can rely on.

With nearly an even split, Happ has done well hitting the ball to all parts of the field.

He’s been key for the Cubs in the first month of this season, hitting an absurd .539 with men in scoring position.

Playing to contact has worked well for Ian Happ thus far, connecting with pitches in the strikezone at an 85.6 percent clip, easily the best of his career.

The 27-year-old still has the propensity to expand his strike zone, but he’s making contact outside of the zone at a 60.5 percent – nearly a 15 percent increase from last year.

Credit: Baseball Savant

Given the high BABIP, I would expect Happ comes back down to earth a bit as the season develops. He’s made significant strides in reducing the number of strikeouts, which has helped him get on base more often. If he can continue to do that, Happ will easily post career numbers on a rebuilding Cubs team.

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