Ian Happ’s Improved Patience Signals Potential Breakout Season

Ian Happ followed up a stellar rookie season in which he finished with 24 homers and a 114 wRC+ by smacking just 15 homers with a (still good) 106 wRC+ in 2019. Oddly enough, though, I sort of feel better about Happ going in 2019 than I did this past season. Why? Because of the adjustments he made.

Happ slugged his way through 2017, but he expanded his zone perhaps a bit too much in the process. By the end of 2017, Happ had swung at more pitches outside than zone (31.9 percent O-Swing) than an average hitter (29.9).

Last season, however, Happ made noticeable improvements in pitch selection and ultimately was one of the most patient young hitters in MLB. Only nine other hitters under the age of 26 swung at fewer pitches outside the strike zone than Happ and his 24.7 percent O-Swing. Think about that for a second.

Remember when the young switch-hitter seemed lost at the plate early in 2018? That hurt me. Yet Happ appeared to adjust right after a rough start. It was actually sort of crazy, in my opinion. Happ was swinging at roughly four of every 10 pitches outside the zone in April, but he halved that rate in May. For the rest of the season, Happ’s O-Swing rate remained better than league average.

Now imagine Happ combining his raw power with this newfound selectivity. Then add in his versatility and athleticism. The ceiling for Happ is so high if you think about all the tools he brings to the table. At the same time, it’s possible Happ wasn’t able to mash more homers because he was too patient.

Regardless, Happ will enter 2019 as one of the most athletic, patient, and powerful young hitters in baseball. Whether he’ll do so in a Cubs uniform, however, that is the real question.

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Brendan Miller

Brendan Miller is part of the Cubs Related Podcast duo with Corey Freedman. Brendan, who has twice as many Twitter followers as Corey, often writes about baseball analytics and scouting for Cubs Insider.

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11 Comments

  1. I’d agree with that last statement. Maybe it’s anecdotal but I can think of a lot of times he struck out with the bat on his shoulder on a pitch inside the zone.

    1. Yeah, I sort of remember the same. An encouraging thing is that he still swung at more pitches than average inside the zone and still an exceptionally high amount over the heart of the plate.

      1. Homerun crazy guys. A lot of BIG swings with little control. Standing there looking for that fastball when pitchers feed a diet of off speed stuff to Happ and Schwarber.

  2. It seems to all come down to what is being offered for Schwarber and Happ. I believe one has to go, unless Heyward is shipped off. I still feel Harper will be RF, Almora in CF against LHP, Heyward or Happ as the long side of that platoon and Schwarber or Happ with Zobrist in LF. The FO has to be slow playing this and watching the market play out.

      1. I don’t think that would be wise. I think they both will have very productive careers and right now they would be selling low on either, but ONE of them has move on unless Heyward can be dealt.

  3. Happ’s problem last year didn’t seem to be out of zone pitches, it was missing in the zone pitches. I’m not sure how to massage Fangraphs to see that data, but I remember more often than not him swinging through a pitch in the zone rather than chasing.

    1. Exactly. More worthless stats and dreams. His PROBLEM is not the zone. It’s trying to knock every pitch out of the park. Unless that changes, we are going to see more of the same.

  4. Happ needs to improve, shorten, the time it takes for him to recognize a pitch and get his bat into the hitting zone. Patience helps, but doesn’t solve this.

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