Sell High Candidate: Is Ian Happ Destined To Disappoint In 2021?

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A long-time breakout candidate, the Cubs’ Ian Happ seemingly figured things out as he delivered a strong line in 2020:

198 At Bats
.258 Batting Average (51 Hits)
12 Home Runs
28 RBI
27 Runs
1 Stolen Bases
.361 On Base Percentage
.505 Slugging Percentage
.317 Batting Average on Balls in Play

Now the question is how real are the numbers? Can Happ carry his success into 2021 and beyond? Let’s break it down:

Power

There obviously is going to be questions when someone posts a 27.3% HR/FB, but take a look at the career marks:

  • 2017 (413 PA) – 25.3%
  • 2018 (462 PA) – 17.9%
  • 2019 (156 PA) – 26.2%
  • 2020 (231 PA) – 27.3%

It’s hard to say that the number isn’t repeatable, considering he’s been at 25% or better in three of his four seasons in the Majors. Of course he’s highly dependent on carrying an elevated mark, given these underlying metrics:

  • Average HR Distance – 387 (tied for 214th)
  • Launch Angle – 9 degrees (205th)
  • Exit Velocity – 91.1 mph (40th)
  • Hard% – 36.0%

While he has been fairly consistent over the past few seasons, can we really bank on him maintaining the power pace? A few more flyballs (32.6%) would help, but that may not be enough.

Average

Obviously a drop in his power is going to have an impact, and his ability to make consistent contact looms large. His 14.5% SwStr% is right inline with his career mark (15.3%), and it shouldn’t be surprising that he saw fewer hard pitches in ’20 (63.97% in ’19 to 56.15%). That said it’s not like he makes consistent contact against any type of pitch (Whiff%):

  • Hard – 12.76%
  • Breaking – 18.85%
  • Offspeed – 20.48%

A drop in his power and any drop in his luck could have devastating effects. Let’s not forget that he hit .233 in ’18, and we know how bad things could get.

Conclusion

It was a strong showing in ’20, but would it really be surprising if things regressed significantly in ’21? If the power pace slows, which it easily could, and with his command of the strike zone the average could slip to an unusable mark. Couple that with the risk of the power regression and things could get ugly. While there’s upside, the floor is likely far too low (especially with the name appeal) to invest in.

Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball

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