Fantasy Baseball September Standout: Ian Happ

The fantasy season has ended but the playoffs have begun and what better time than to start getting ahead of the game for the 2022 season. My research is just getting underway and I like to start with late-season standouts.

The idea is to see what went right (or wrong if someone struggled down the stretch) and to see if it’s all smoke or if there is fire and reason to believe. Today we discuss a name that was a popular draft day target in 2021 that then turned into a popular drop mid-season. Just to end up being a league winner down the stretch. None other than Ian Happ.

Ian Happ, OF, Chicago Cubs

This is a familiar foe, Ian Happ. He was a popular target in fantasy baseball entering the season and of course, he finishes strong to finish the year and give me hope to buy in again next season.

In September Ian Happ posted:

  • 8 home runs
  • 7 stolen bases (just caught once)
  • .317/.405/.615
  • wOBA; .427
  • wRC+ of 167

He started the hot run back in August and posted over half of his home runs (15 of his 25) in just these final two months of the season.

So what changed? Well, let’s take a look at how the production before August compares to that beginning in August.

MonthsBB%K%ISOBABIPBAOPSwOBAwRC+
Mar-July12.828.8.146.228.180.619.27971
Aug – Sep9.929.6293356.288.944.396147

His BABIP did go up which helped the batting average and it was below average before August (career .313 BABIP). Something that does stand out is the decrease in walk rate. It is still above average but it is notably down about 4%. This shows there could be added aggression in the profile. Not to mention overall on the season we saw the 1st pitch swing % (28.6%) up 3.9 points from 2020 and the the whiff rate (32.3%) actually drop 3.4 points from 2020.

MonthsLD%GB%FB%IFFB%HR/FB%Pull%Cent%Oppo%
Mar-July17.550.831.67.117.938.531.529.6
Aug – Sep2539.435.610.631.942.931.625.6

The BABIP being up could be explained by the gain of line drives and the big dip in GB%. We are talking about an 11.4 point difference between the ground ball rates. That is very noticeable. The HR/FB rate also almost doubled. This would explain the big power outburst down the stretch.

MonthsO-Swing%Z-Swing%Swing%O-Con%Z-Con%Con%SwStr%
Mar-July24.467.342.455.678.670.912.3
Aug – Sep2970.845.749.181.869.414

The plate discipline clearly shows how he was actively changing his approach. Sure, the swing-and-miss won’t leave the game but his zone contact did improve and with it came positive results. But the batting average will always be a liability but better days could be ahead in terms of BABIP and maybe we can see closer to the .250 or .260 batting average range if he continues to hit more pitches in the zone and put more balls in play.

MonthsEventsEVmaxEVLABarrel%HH%
Mar-July17989.3111.98.28.439.1
Aug – Sep13389.9112.112.31543.6

And you can see, the launch angle was up from 8.2 degrees up to 12.3 degrees, and with it the hard-hit numbers, max exit velo, and barrel rate all improved with it. It was not by happenstance. The change in approach was also by design. He openly discussed how he changed his approach and worked on it and entering August it started to click. The article is linked at the end of the article.

Lastly, Ian Happ Struggled more against left handed pitching (LHP) more last year than he typically does. Using the same parameters (from 4/1/21 – 7/31/21) Happ posted a .161 batting average with a .235 wOBA and a wRC+ of 43. This was over 71 plate appearances.

For reference, he is a career .233 hitter against LHP with a .301 wOBA and an 85 wRC+. Nothing to write home about but far better than the way he started the 2021 season. In the final two months (8/1/2021 – 10/3/2021) he reversed course against LHP by hitting .283 with a wRC+ of 122 and a .357 wOBA over 54 plate appearances. He should live somewhere in the middle of these two sets of outcomes when it’s all said and done.

Beyond The Numbers

When diving into a player’s ups and downs, you should always look for reasoning or possible explanations behind struggles or success. Here are a few reasons and sources of information regarding issues that may have affected Ian Happ’s production.

The injury could have easily played a part in the early season. Here is a video from May 7th from Happ himself discussing how the injury affected him overall and how his whole body and movement were affected as well. This could have easily played a part in the swing and mechanics needing time to get right.

Video can be seen here.

This is the article I previously made mention of from The Athletic (here is the article). It is clear you can tell he was struggling mightily and part of it became a mental aspect he had to overcome due to being bothered by said struggles.

Something that stood out from that article was the mention of Happ’s work ethic during that rough patch. Work ethic doesn’t show in the numbers necessarily but it is encouraging to hear he is someone who puts in the effort to better himself.

“I’ve seen him out there even when it wasn’t going well hitting off the machine, grinding, hitting velo, turning it around, challenging himself,” acting manager Andy Green said. “He never let up throughout the course of the season when it wasn’t going the way he’d like it to. That eventually pays off for someone as talented as him. I think what you’re seeing right now is somebody really finding their groove and somebody doing what they’ve always done when they’ve been given enough at-bats. He’s taken advantage of those at-bats.”

Conclusion

I am willing to give Ian Happ another chance. We saw legitimate changes down the stretch that should play up to better production.

His ADP will likely fall and allow for the potential for profit to be there. The stolen bases will be hard to bank on given he had majorite of them in a single month but we could see close to 10 stolen bases again and 25-plus home runs while hitting closer to .250 if he continues where he left off in the later months of the season. We also saw Happ hitting third in the lineup over the final month or so. ADP will ultimately dictate how in I am on Ian Happ in 2022.


Thanks for reading! You can follow the author on twitter @Mike_Kurland

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