Chicago Cubs: Ian Happ should be in mix for NL MVP
|Wednesday, September 9, 2020 8:27 AM- -|
The Cubs’ offense has had its share of struggles this year. After a red hot 13-3 start, the Cubs have gone just 12-15 since. While the starting pitching has not been as stellar as the beginning of the year, the offense has yet to get going.
When you think offense for the Cubs, you think Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, and Kyle Schwarber. Here are the batting averages for those five players in order: .194, .211, .208, .244, .214. Now here is the career batting averages for those five players in order: .281, .271, .266, .265, .234.
While batting averages are not always the most accurate statistics to show success at the plate, the point is that all five of the Cubs’ major core hitters have been performing worse than usual this year.
But somehow, despite the struggles from the stars, this team has managed to win 25 games—the main reason why is Ian Happ.
Happ has taken over the job as starting centerfielder in David Ross’ first year as manager and has done nothing but impress.
Not only has Happ been the MVP of the Cubs in 2020, but he also deserves some national looks for the National League’s MVP award.
Happ leads the Cubs in hits with 41, batting average with .295, home runs with 12, doubles with 10, RBIs with 24, on-base percentage with .410, slugging percentage with .640, on-base plus slugging with 1.050.
Top 10 National League outfielders by wRC+— Michael Mayer (@mikemayerMMO) September 8, 2020
181 Ian Happ
175 Michael Conforto
171 Mookie Betts
171 Dominic Smith
168 Marcell Ozuna
166 Jesse Winker
145 Bryce Harper
144 Wil Myers
142 Brandon Nimmo
In the National League, Happ ranks in the top ten in homers, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS.
Ian Happ (2.3) is behind only Fernando Tatis Jr. (3.0) in fWAR (tied with Yaz and Betts).— Matt Clapp (@TheBlogfines) September 7, 2020
Also leads all qualified hitters in wRC+ at 183 (Juan Soto and Brandon Belt would be 1-2 if qualified, though).
All of this success just a year removed from Happ spending a majority of the season at Triple-A Iowa last year working on his defense in the outfield and his contact at the plate. Happ has since seen more innings in centerfield, fewer strikeouts, and an increase in power from both the left and right sides of the plate.
Happ had displayed power in his rookie year when he hit 24 homers and drove in 68 runs in 2017, but 2018 the team identified Happ as one of the many reasons why the offense broke and the Cubs collapsed down the stretch. In a controversial move, the Cubs kept Happ in the minors to begin last season — and that decision is paying dividends now.
Upon his return, Happ put together a solid .264 average and added 11 homers and 30 RBI. If you clump his 58 game sample size from the backend of last season and his 41 game sample size from this season so far, the numbers are terrific.
Happ would be batting .283 with 23 home runs, 54 RBIs, an on-base percentage of .379, and an OPS near 1.000 in a sample size that would still be 63 games short of a full season. Truly eye-opening numbers for a player who many believed was an X-Factor for this team.
Happ’s consistency at the plate and improvement defensively has led to Albert Almora Jr. being demoted to the group’s alternate training site in South Bend, and David Ross has been vocal in his confidence in Happ as this group’s center fielder. Happ was such a stabilizing force early on that when Kris Bryant went down with multiple injuries, Happ took his spot atop the order and has been so successful Ross has been forced to leave him in the leadoff spot as the Cubs make a push for the playoffs.
Anthony Rizzo, The Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All-Time, remains first on MLB's all-time leadoff OPS list at 1.014 (min. 200 PAs). BUT, Ian Happ was 11th at .937 coming into today.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 7, 2020
And he's added a double and two walks in this one vs. Cards.
Happ has also taken an increased role as a leader for the Cubs, as he has relived Kris Bryant of his duties as the team’s union rep — not to mention Happ getting connected with fans through his Podcast called the Compound.
The rest of the lineup has not pulled its weight, but Happ has picked up the slack and set the tone for an order that looks to get hot for the playoff push.
If they do, Fernando Tatis may have some company atop the watch list for NL MVP.