Happ snags 1st Gold Glove for stellar season in LF

November 1st, 2022

CHICAGO -- This was the year that Ian Happ put it all together for the Cubs. The lessons learned through all the ups and downs of previous seasons paved the way for the most complete campaign of the outfielder's career.

The switch-hitting Happ found a level of consistency on offense that he had been building toward over multiple tours. He increasingly became a veteran voice behind the scenes. And in left field, Happ performed well enough to earn his first career Gold Glove Award.

"I think this kind of completes the package of feeling like you're a really well-rounded player in this league," Happ said via Zoom on Tuesday night.  "To have this kind of recognition is really cool."

Capturing a Gold Glove was only a possibility when Happ offered those thoughts. On Tuesday, he officially took home the National League's hardware for left field, earning the trophy over fellow Rawlings Gold Glove finalists Christian Yelich and David Peralta.

Also a first-time All-Star this year, Happ was one of 14 first-time Gold Glove recipients, marking the most in a single year. In Cubs history, he joins Bob Dernier (1984), Andre Dawson (1987-88) and Jason Heyward (2016-17) as the only outfielders to pick up a Gold Glove.

"He's played a great left field," Cubs manager David Ross said in September. "He's been just as consistent as a player as I've ever seen him this year on all sides of the ball."

Here are a few notes on Happ's defensive season:

• His 14 Defensive Runs Saved overall (13 in left and one in center) ranked seventh among all MLB outfielders. His 13 DRS in left led the National League and were second to Cleveland's Steven Kwan (21) among all all left fielders.

• In the NL, only Cincinnati's Aristides Aquino (20 DRS between left and right), Arizona's Daulton Varsho (19 between center and right) and L.A.'s Mookie Betts (15 in right) had more DRS in the outfield than Happ.

• Among qualified left fielders, Happ's 7.9 UZR/150 ranked third in the Majors and first in the NL. He was credited with one OAA, trailing only Kwan (10) and Peralta (five) among MLB left fielders.

• Happ's career-high 1,233 1/3 innings in left field ranked second in the Majors, while his 142 starts at the position paced MLB.

• His eight assists from left field ranked third to Tommy Pham (15) and Jurickson Profar (10).

Happ logged 1,245 1/3 innings in the outfield this season, with only 12 innings at a spot other than left. One year earlier, when Happ logged his previous career-high of 992 2/3 innings in the outfield, his time was split between left (459 1/3), center (438 2/3) and right (94 2/3). He also moved between second and third base at points in his career prior to this past season.

Happ has credited that positional stability in '22 with helping him take the next step as a left fielder.

"It's been a long road, on both sides of the ball," Happ said, "but definitely defensively, with all the different positions and finding a home and feeling like not only are you able to play there every day, but you're able to make an impact and do so in a positive way."

That included becoming extremely familiar with the ins and outs of Wrigley Field's left-field line, and the lack of foul territory along the wall. For just one example, look no further than a sliding grab Happ made on Sept. 29 against Philadelphia's Brandon Marsh.

In the top of the ninth, Marsh sent one of Keegan Thompon's pitches high into the air, drifting away from Happ toward the wall. Happ hustled to his left, covering the required 77 feet on a play with a 60% catch probability, per Statcast.

Happ made the catch while sliding -- his feet hitting the side wall to halt his momentum. From the third-base dugout, Happ disappeared from view from Ross, who only knew his left fielder made the grab when third baseman Patrick Wisdom started celebrating on the field.

"Wis was right there and he was like, 'Oh yeah, attaboy!'" Ross said after the game. "We're like, 'He caught that?' We couldn't believe he caught it, because that's one of those, the wall, the lines are so tricky here."

That is just one example why Happ earned his first Gold Glove Award -- an honor he dreamt about since his Little League days.

"Little kid Ian would probably be wondering why I'm playing left field and not shortstop," Happ quipped. "But his expectations were pretty high. I grew up watching Omar Vizquel highlights and thinking that his accomplishments with the glove were the coolest thing in baseball. ... To be able to have this one on the mantel and to have the award with my name on it is really, really cool."