Ian Happ Needs to be in the Starting Lineup More Often
Happ is 3-3 with a home run and a double in his last two games and is starting to see the ball very well at the plate.
After last night’s emphatic beatdown given by the Athletics, there weren’t many bright spots throughout the game, but Ian Happ was one of them. After subbing in for Javier Baez in the middle of the game, Happ went on to go 2-2 with a double and a single. Both balls were hit hard, proving that he is finally looking comfortable at the plate after three weeks of being back with the Cubs. Happ also hit a go-ahead pinch-hit home run Monday night to put the Cubs up 3-2, in which they eventually won that game. That ball was hit 474 feet to right-center, the furthest among any Cubs home run this season. That makes three straight plate appearances where Happ has barreled up the baseball, showing that he is seeing the ball as well as anyone right now.
Not only does Happ have slugging ability, which was on display Monday night, he also walks at a great clip. Happ has a walk percentage of 22.2%, which leads the team. The next best is Victor Caratini at 12.2%, which is a considerable gap. According to FanGraphs, Happ also has a wRC+ of 148, which is second on the team behind Castellanos at 198. wRC+ is a metric used by front offices in the league that attempts to quantify a player’s total offensive value. It is widely renowned as one of the most useful statistics out there. I understand both Happ and Castellanos’ sample sizes are small, but why is Castellanos getting the starting nod every day and Happ continues to sit the bench? It’s perplexing to me why he has not received more of an opportunity yet given his recent success.
It’d be one thing if the Cubs didn’t have room for Happ to be in the lineup more often, but that is not the case. Last night was the perfect chance for him to start in left field because a lefty was on the mound, and it looks like Kyle Schwarber will be sitting the bench against lefties for the rest of the year. Maddon elected to start Albert Almora in centerfield instead of moving Jason Heyward to CF and putting Happ in LF. I understand that Almora has been hitting the ball much better the last couple of weeks, but it is likely not sustainable given his emphatic struggles hitting in the 90 games before the All-Star break. Happ simply has better plate appearances, works deeper counts, and has more slugging ability than Almora. The bottom line is that Almora has been given plenty of chances this season to prove his worth and he has failed, so its time to give Happ those chances.
In addition to the outfield, Happ can play second base, as he showed last night and in previous years for the Cubs. With David Bote’s struggles over the past month at the plate and Tony Kemp not hitting well since his acquisition, this is the position where he’s most likely to man down permanently if he proves he can continue to hit this well. I fully anticipate Ian Happ to start at second base today against the Athletics, but if he does not, it begs the question of what was the point of bringing him up in the first place? Second base has been a glaring hole all year and it was everyone’s understanding that Ian Happ was brought up to potentially fill that need. With all the success he has had recently, it’s about time to give him the chance to prove he can get the job done.
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