Player Spotlight: Ian Happ
I’m going to be spotlighting a couple of players per position that I find especially interesting each week. These are going to be more of a stat based, analytical deep dive on a specific player. The projections next to the player’s name are an average of THE BAT, ATC, Steamer, and ZIPS projections systems found on Fangraphs. NFBC ADP data is from the date range 02/01/2019-02/25/2019. Can Ian Happ recapture his prospect luster?
Ian Happ, CHC (ADP 264): 476 PA, 60 R, 20 HR, 59 RBI, 9 SB, .236/.333/.435/.768
Happ was next in a long line of position player prospects in the Cubs organization entering his 2017 rookie season. Happ was known for an average hit tool, above average power, and above average speed. He posted great walk rates and reasonable strikeout rates throughout the minors. He proved to be worth the hype when he slashed .253/.328/.514/.842 with 24 HR and 8 SB in just 115 games. The switch hitter was primed to be a top 100 player entering 2018 until things went sideways.
He saw his batting average drop 20 points while hitting just 15 home runs in 142 games. The plate skills in 2018 are some of the weirdest I’ve ever seen. He had a 15.2% walk rate and a 36.1% strikeout rate. He’s the anti Willians Astudillo. The walk rate was top 5% in the league and was a return to the elite walk rates of his early minor league career. The problem is his strikeout rate was the 4th worst in the league behind only Mike Zunino, Chris Davis, and Jorge Alfaro. That’s very, very concerning for Happ’s future.
One narrative is that since Happ takes so many pitches, he gets himself into bad counts. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. His Z-Swing% (% of in the zone pitches that were swung at) ranked 125 out 247 so he’s essentially average in that category. The issue is that he posted the worst Z-Contact% (% of in the zone pitches where contact was made) in the entire league (min. 350 AB). He just couldn’t make any contact with pitches in the zone, which is always going to lead very high strikeout rates.
I’m worried about Happ for 2019 and beyond because there isn’t an easy fix for this problem. He’s going to have to undergo some serious adjustments at the plate in order to salvage his career. The good news for him is that he’s just 24 years old and has a history of reasonable strike out rates in the minors. Let’s hope he can turn it around and make enough contact to unlock the power that’s in his bat.