Breaking down Happ's stats with '22 in mind

August 26th, 2021

CHICAGO -- is sharp enough to understand the landcape. The Cubs outfielder knows the rest of this season is a period of evaluation, as the team's decision makers plot a path for reconstructing the roster for next season and beyond.

Sitting on a side wall at Wrigley Field, following a round of batting practice earlier this week, Happ said he has to push those types of thoughts to the side. He is trying to keep his attention on the present, and leaving all the future talk to others.

Happ gave a quick shake of the head when asked if he was worried about being under evaluation.

"It's not helpful. It's not going to make you play any better," Happ said. "It's not going to get you going in the right direction. I think you have to be really convicted to what you're doing and confident in yourself."

Confidence alone, however, cannot cement a player's place in the 2022 picture.

"At the end of the day," Cubs manager David Ross said, "you've got to go out and do it, right? It's a production-driven game and league."

With that in mind, Ross has been extremely encouraged to see Happ find a rhythm in the batter's box over the past two weeks. The outfielder's two-hit showing in Game 2 of Wednesday's doubleheader -- including a late, game-tying, three-run homer -- gave him a .357/.426/.738 slash line in his past 13 games.

If Happ can keep his foot on the offensive gas pedal, that could make one box on Chicago's offseason decision list a little easier to check. Happ is 27 years old, under contract for $4.1 million and eligible for arbitration for two more years.

It would seem to help Happ's case that he has a history with the Cubs, who saw him enjoy a breakout showing in 2020. Then again, the team non-tendered slugger Kyle Schwarber -- a beloved player with plenty of track record -- last offseason after balancing cost vs. production.

"With Happer's situation," Ross said, "he's got a track record of success, but hasn't had the year he wanted, right? So, I think it's nice to see him start coming around. ... I think it's continuing to see if he can get back to who we believe he is and can be, right? And show those results."

Here is a snapshot of Happ's results:

• Through 116 games this season, he has hit .198/.301/.369 with 15 homers and an 82 OPS+ in 397 plate appearances.

• In 115 games across the '19-20 seasons, Happ hit .260/.350/.530 with 23 homers and a 131 OPS+ in 387 PAs.

• Happ's strikeout rate (30 percent) and walk rate (12.1 percent) in '21 are not drastically different from '20 (27.3 percent and 13 percent, respectively).

• Early in the season, Statcast's expected numbers (based on batted-ball data) painted a picture of positive regression coming. Now, though, Happ's wOBA (.297) and xwOBA (.297) are identical.

• Happ has seen an jump in contact rate (69.5 percent in '21 vs. 66.5 percent in '20), but the quality of contact has been the different. Per Statcast, his hard-hit rate is down to 41 percent this year (compared to 48.5 percent in '20).

It sounds simple, but Happ said timing is at the heart of everything. When he is a "click late" on fastballs, it can create a chain reaction that can get him caught in between on other pitches.

"It's just trying to find a way to get on time," Happ explained. "Finding a way to be on time and trusting that when you're on time, you're going to have the ability to have success. There's a couple mechanical things that are kind of falling in place."

Things also seemed to be falling into place for Happ back at the start of May. The switch-hitter followed his rough opening month (.467 OPS in 24 games) by hitting .417 in a nine-game stretch.

It looked like Happ was turning a corner, but he then hit .147/.252/.257 over the next 70 games. That sunk his season average to .175 and dropped his OPS to .602, leading up to his current 13-game hot stretch.

Per Statcast, Happ's slugging percentage against fastballs has climbed to .541 in August -- up from .387 in July and .310 in June. His slugging vs. offspeed pitches has jumped to .800 in August (compared to .071 in July and .000 in June).

"Happer's starting to show a lot of the signs that we've been waiting to see," Ross said. "And hopefully, he can continue that through the end of the season."

That would go a long way in helping Happ remain in the Cubs' future plans.

"Every team is going to evaluate you differently," Happ said. "You never want to let that affect the way you're playing the game."