Ian Happ’s Surprising Performance from Right Side Buoying Overall Numbers
Ian Happ typically plays left and bats that way too, but it’s his performance from the right side of the plate that has him on pace for a career year. The switch hitter doubled from the right side Monday night to drive in the first of eight runs the Cubs ended up scoring in the opening frame, then he singled from the left side as the 12th of 13 batters to come up in that first turn.
That made him the first Cub since Ángel Pagán on September 6, 2006 to collect hits from each side of the plate in the same inning. There’s been no word on whether the Cubs will leverage Happ’s exploits to co-opt the Pagán holiday, but I wouldn’t be surprised if something is in the works.
With his double (batting RHH) anf single (batting LHH) in the first, Ian Happ became the first Cubs switch-hitter with a hit from each side of the plate in the same inning since Sept. 6, 2006 (Ángel Pagán, 8th inning, two singles, also vs. Pirates).
h/t Cubs historian Ed Hartig
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) May 17, 2022
He would go on to collect another hit on the evening, again as a lefty batter, to boost his average to .236 with a 115 wRC+ from that side. While that makes him 15% better than the average MLB run-producer, it’s five points below his career average and would mark the second-lowest season of his career (111 in 2021). But his overall 131 wRC+ would be his best ever, which means…
Happ is crushing from the right side, boasting a 164 wRC+ that is 74 points higher than his career average and 65 points higher than he’s ever posted in a season. Could those numbers shift dramatically over the remainder of the season? Of course. But even if his righty performance drops off, it’s easy enough to believe his lefty numbers will improve to balance the scales.
With only 33 plate appearances from the right side so far, it’s impossible to say with any real conviction that Happ’s numbers are for real. What we can say, however, is that his 21.2% strikeout rate is well below his historical levels even if his .455 BABIP is an unsustainably high sign that regression is in the offing. His worrisome 60.9% grounder rate is further indication of correction, though the sample may remain small enough that this hot start will buoy it.
We should also note that torrid stretches of play are nothing hew to Happ, whose up-and-down nature has led many to question whether the highs are worth the lows. Without going back through everything from his demotion in 2019 to taking a ball off his eye in 2020, it seems like the left fielder really turned it on in early August of last season. So even if his batted-ball profile doesn’t support the notion that he worked to “get some of that offspeed stuff in the air,” the end result has been great.
Some of it can probably be attributed to having a set role after bouncing around the outfield and even getting some reps at second base over the previous few years. Having one less thing to think about isn’t a bad thing for a baseball player, particularly someone like Happ who tends to be a bit of a thinker by nature. That’s a good thing in most regards, but the thinking brain gets in the way of the doing brain far too often.
My final observation here is that Happ seems to have dialed back his power profile in exchange for a more hitterish approach that sees him making more contact and striking out much less. You’d like for him to get a few more balls in the air as the summer goes along, but it’s hard to argue with the results to this point.