Ian Happ’s hard work during a lengthy minor league assignment in 2019 led to a successful end-of-season stint with the big league club. In fact, no other Cubs hitter had more barrels per plate appearance than the 9.0% Happ managed last season.
Happ’s barrel rate was better than 95% of MLB last season and best among switch hitters (minimum 50 plate appearances). For the sake of reference, Kyle Schwarber was right there with Happ and NL MVP Cody Bellinger sat just behind with a mark of 8.9% barrels per plate appearance. Only 10 players in baseball (min. 100 batted-ball events) achieved 10% or higher.
Now let’s add a little more context to Happ’s top-tier barrel rate. Despite producing 12% more runs than an average MLB hitter over the course of his young career, Happ was asked to sharpen his approach and improve his contract rate. Though he was admittedly pissed off by the demotion, Happ took it in stride and went to work. Not only did the utility slugger successfully adjust, but he did so at a league-best rate.
Happ’s adjustments are a big deal, folks. The 25-year-old will likely receive a big chunk of playing time in 2020, probably as the primary center fielder with the way things are stacking up right now. He’s projected to produce 1.5 fWAR in 457 plate appearances with a .328 wOBA, which is actually 0.4 fWAR more than Nick Castellanos’ projection.
I know the Cubs’ lack of activity this offseason is discouraging, but I’m still excited to see how Happ continues to implement those adjustments to improve further. The Cubs sorely missed their switch hitter’s utility throughout the 2019 season and his potential value in 2020 shouldn’t be understated. Happ’s presence when Opening Day arrives will be a significant boost.