As we’ve all seen over the first few weeks of this crazy 2020 season, 26-year-old Ian Happ is having a breakthrough season. While some may have always envisioned this for the switch-hitting slugger, many also had their doubts. Happ hasn’t been a regular for an entire season in the bigs and spent most of 2019 in the minors as he retooled his swing for a more contact-heavy approach.
He tore it up upon returning to Chicago for the last two months of the season and has improved upon that production as one of the most valuable players in the National League so far this year. Happ’s early production led David Ross to call him “the real deal” in anointing him the Cubs’ everyday centerfielder. In addition to those duties, he’s since taken over as the leadoff hitter and collected four hits in three games.
Though he wouldn’t wrest the MVP award from Fernando Tatis Jr. if the trophy were to be handed out on August 20, Happ would be among the leading vote-getters. That got me to thinking, which got me to checking out fantasy baseball stats, which got me to comparing Happ with a superstar hitter you might not otherwise put in the same stratosphere. But the more I looked, the more similarities I found.
This isn’t so much saying they’re the same player or that Happ will suddenly become this other guy, I just found the numbers intriguing. So before you go trying to blow holes in this by referencing number of plate appearances, age, hype, etc, please understand that this is merely an exercise in fun.
I’ll reveal the mystery man in a moment, but now let’s check the side-by-side stats from their first four years:
Happ: 9.4% BB, 31% K, .253 avg, .328 OBP, .514 SLG
Player X: 9.4% BB, 20.1% K, .270 avg, .340 OBP, .477 SLG
Happ: 15.2% BB, 36.1% K, .233 avg, .353 OBP, .408 SLG
Player X: 12.3% BB, 18.9% K, .274 avg, .368 OBP, .486 SLG
Happ: 9.6% BB, 25% K, .264 avg, .333 OBP, .564 SLG
Player X: 9.6% BB, 26.3% K, .273 avg, .344 OBP, .423 SLG
Happ: 16.7% BB, 27.8% K, .315 avg, .438 OBP, .671 SLG
Player X: 19% BB, 20% K, .330 avg, .460 OBP, .649 SLG
Have you figured out who our mystery man is yet, or are you still like Shaggy and Scooby Doo waiting for Fred to pull off his mask. It’s none other than Las Vegas native and former would-be Cubs target Bryce Harper.
Again, Harper was much younger when he debuted and he accumulated a great deal more experience right out of the gate. But when you look past that, you see two players who have a keen eye and who have worked hard to make adjustments over time. Even some of their trends follow similar patters, and both still have the potential to get even better through their respective primes.
I didn’t include counting stats because that would have been an exercise in futility, though it becomes less so when you look at homer rate. Happ has 56 home runs in his first 964 at-bats (17:1 AB/HR), Harper had 97 in 1830 ABs (19:1 HR/AB). This year, they’ve both been worth the exact same 1.3 fWAR and, as you can see above, their numbers are almost indiscernible in several areas.
I went into this laughing at myself for even toying with the notion that Happ could be similar in any way to one of the best hitters in the game, and I understand if you’re laughing about it right now. Even if the stats don’t tell the whole truth, they’re not lying. Despite the reservations we may have about Happ’s ability to maintain this pace for an entire season, this might be who he is.
If that’s the case, we’d better enjoy it while we still can.