Hopefully Chicago outfielder Ian Happ has put the major strikeout woes from earlier in his career to rest. There are always going to be a few too many strikeouts in his game, but fantasy baseball managers should learn to be happy with a rate around 27 percent for Happ. Last season, he hit 12 home runs with 28 RBI and 27 runs scored with a .258/.361/.505 slash line across 57 games. Happ also went just 1-for-4 on stolen base attempts in the COVID-19 shortened season.
After posting strikeout rates of 31.2 percent and 36.1 percent in 2017 and 2018 respectively, his 27.3 percent mark from 2020 looks like a resounding success! He spent the majority of the 2019 season in the minors, but he posted a 25 percent strikeout rate through 58 games in the 2019 campaign. Yes, his strikeout rate is still elevated, but his strikeout rate from 2020 ranked in the 24th percentile, which is a career best. Silver lining? We’ll look at it that way!
When he did make contact, the results were encouraging. He posted a career best 91.1 mph exit velocity in the 2020 season, and his exit velocity and hard hit rate came in at the 84th percentile and 89th percentile respectively. His launch angle tanked, but more line drives provide some optimism to steadying his batting average, which would be a net positive I think. Sure, he may lose out on a couple of homers over the course of the year, but if we learned anything from 2020, it’s that his hard contact can maintain an elevated HR/FB rate.
Despite hitting fly balls at a career low 32.6 percent in 2020, his HR/FB was at a career-best 27.3 percent. Most of the tradeoff was for line drives instead of ground balls, so fantasy managers can forgive him there. He hits fastballs well, and while the batting average wasn’t there against breaking pitches in 2020, the exit velocity was slightly up, so a little better luck should go a long way for Happ.
However, he took a significant step back against off-speed pitches, highlighted by a whopping 50 percent whiff rate and a measly 83.6 mph average exit velocity.
Courtesy of Baseball Savant
Courtesy of Baseball Savant
There’s always going to be some swing-and-miss in his game. It just is what it is, and it is who he is. He’s likely always going to be a guy with a swinging strike rate above 14 or 15 percent. To his credit, he did chase less in 2020, but his contact rate dropped below 70 percent again. He’s going to hit leadoff for the Cubbies in 2021, so it would be ideal if he can push that contact rate up to at least 70 percent. He’s posted excellent walk rates, including an excellent 13 percent mark last season. In leagues that value on-base percentage he gets a boost, because he can outweigh his batting average with a high walk rate.
If he makes more contact, and continues to hit line drives with authority, he could push a .265 average this season. However, his upside here is capped by his propensity to strikeout nearly three times in every ten at-bats. Realistically, you would likely be happy if he hits about .245 in 2021.
The 26-year-old outfielder has had a hot start to the spring, hitting .314 through his first 42 plate appearances. He’s homered twice and has posted a walk rate of 14.3 percent and a strikeout rate of just 20 percent. I would say those are promising early returns for Happ! Fingers crossed he runs more in 2021, and runs more efficiently. He was successful on just 25 percent of his attempts last year, and has yet to run this spring.
As long as Chicago doesn’t trade all of their primary offensive pieces, Happ should have a decent amount of potential at the top of lineup. He’ll have to do his part though, highlighted by three things: 1) more contact, 2) maintain a double-digit walk rate and 3) CUT DOWN ON THE STRIKEOUTS.
The big key to how much value he returns can be directed towards his stolen base total. He’s going to hit 20+ home runs and hit somewhere between .235-.260, but two or three stolen bases versus eight-to-ten stolen bases makes a massive difference for his overall fantasy value.
Overall, I think Happ will hit .245 with 23 home runs and seven stolen bases.