Ian Happ has been an enigma throughout his career. We often label players as streaky. For some guys that might be four or five games where they are red hot and for others it might be a week or two of elevated performance. But Happ is a bit different. Of course, like almost all players who get regular playing time, he’ll have those really hot stretches. But thing with Happ is that his needle will point in one general direction for a month or more at a time. Does that mean he is getting multiple hits every day? Of course not.
With Ian, it seems like for months at a time he’s a subpar player. But then he gets into a groove and he’s a regular contributor for months at a time. This year, his OPS bottomed out on April 30 at .467. OPS of .467. That’s almost impossibly low for a guy who hits for a fair bit of power. Not even to mention that he’s got pretty decent speed which can help get an extra hit or an extra base here or there to boost those numbers. But when we pull back and look at a bigger picture, Ian had a .626 OPS for the first half (in this instance that was 77 games, 269 plate appearances). In the second half though, he has an OPS of .893 (59 hits in 215 PA). Just about 270 points of difference. That’s pretty wild.
Even then, that first half was somehow buoyed by a May with an OPS of .971 (19 hits in 75 PA). Looking at the whole first four months of the season, he was .467 as noted in April, and .971 in May. Then he added .497 and .561 over June and July. But then he posted an .856 OPS in August and two thirds of the way through September, he is way up at 1.133. Of course, looking by month is somewhat arbitrary. One could find different trend lines within that data. But the point is illustrated pretty well in this data set. Of particular note, his OPS was way down in June and July and now way up in August and September. And that’s amplified because we aren’t talking about a guy who has a .700ish OPS when things are bad and then a .900ish when things are good.
From May 22 to August 12, he had an OPS of .506. His BABIP over that time period was .197. That’s a 71-game, 224-PA sample. Without going and looking at tape, I can’t guarantee that I’m right, but for me when I look at BABIP, I usually look at it like this. If a guy usually has a BABIP more or less around league average, if he runs 20 or 30 points under for a period of time, he’s probably hitting into some bad luck. A few extra balls are being struck right at fielders and that’s going to even out. When a guy is WAY under on BABIP over a stretch, it isn’t usually primarily because of bad luck. Sure, there are still going to be some balls that were scalded but found a glove. But by and large when a guy goes through that kind of massive funk it is because they are getting themselves out, making contact with all the wrong kinds of pitches and/or locations and basically getting themselves out. Much the same way that vintage Jake Arrieta was able to sustain a very low BABIP against. He was getting seemingly every hitter (that actually hit the ball) into weak contact.
So my hypothesis was that Happ got into a deep funk and when he wasn’t striking out, he was consistently making weak contact. Not exactly deep thoughts, but just confirming that I don’t think you run into bad luck on that level for that length of time. It doesn’t matter what your power/speed skill set is if you are hitting weak grounders and pop ups all of the time.
From August 13 to the present, Happ has a 1.140 OPS. It’s a smaller sample, with only 32 games and 129 plate appearances, but the results are strikingly different. His BABIP is .347 over that time period. And I’m not going to say that he all of the sudden had a lucky streak either. He started really striking the ball well and with his combo of power and speed, he is a lethal player. That’s one very large sample and one not all together small sample that are more than 600 OPS points apart.
And the thing is with Ian, this isn’t a one-time thing. We’ve seen this in the past. Some players will go through these funks when they play hurt. But it doesn’t seem like that’s been the case with Ian. It’s like he just loses it and then he just finds it later. All of this makes me torn as to what you do with him. Frustratingly, I think you just need to pencil him into the lineup most days and take the bad with the good. He’s a better player than the numbers he put up this year. And yet with an OPS of .748 and 23 homers, for a guy who can play all three outfield spots decently (and could play everywhere but short on the infield in a pinch), that’s not bad production. Maybe you find him an extra day off or two when he’s in his tailspins, but I think you just roll with it.
Let’s get to the numbers on another pulled away late, Brewers-Cubs game. As you’ll recall, the Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA (Win Probability Added) and are not in any way subjective. Many days WPA will not tell the story of what happened, but often it can give at least a glimpse to who rose to the occasion in a high-leverage moment or who didn’t get the job done in that moment. And now, let’s get to the results.
Game 149, September 18: Brewers 6, Cubs 4 (66-83)
- Superhero: Ian Happ (.380). 3-5, HR (23), 2RBI, R, SB, K
- Hero: Trayce Thompson (.117). BB, SB
* Trayce is the 62nd different Cub to appear in H&G this season. He might be the last new person to appear. Regardless, this is a record by a wide margin.
- Sidekick: Willson Contreras (.106). 1-4, HR (20), BB, 2RBI, R, SB, K
- Billy Goat: Scott Effross (-.324). ⅔ IP, 2H, 2R (1ER), K (L 2-1)
- Goat: Patrick Wisdom (-.201). 0-4, BB, 4K
- Kid: Frank Schwindel (-.169). 1-5, R, 2K
WPA Play of the Game: Ian Happ batted with a runner on first and two outs in the fifth inning, with the Cubs trailing 2-1. He homered, giving them a brief lead. (.273)
*Brewers Play of the Game: Manny Piña led off the eighth inning against Scott Effross with the game tied. He slugged a homer and that turned out to be the game-winner. (.259)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
- Frank Schwindel +28 (-1)
- Kris Bryant +26
- Patrick Wisdom +20 (-2)
- Craig Kimbrel +20
- David Bote -13
- Jake Arrieta -19
- Zach Davies -22
Up Next: The third and final game of the series between these two teams and the 19th and final head-to-head meeting between them for this year. The Cubs have lost 15 of the 18 played thus far. Adrian Sampson (1-2, 2.53) starts for the Cubs. The Brewers will start Eric Lauer (6-5, 3.10).