This story is excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, Click here. And subscribe to receive it regularly in your inbox.
The composition of the Cubs’ roster this season allowed manager David Ross to leave Ian Happ alone in left field. It was not necessary to move Happ. This, in turn, allowed the outfielder to reduce his readiness in an effort to own and improve his defense in the corner.
“There’s a lot of daily rehearsals and readings and a familiarity with one place,” Happ said. “It allows you to continue to make better decisions, get better reads, understand how the ball is coming out of different hitters’ bats, and start grouping hitters together. Just playing in one place you gives the opportunity to do so.
“And then there’s a lot of work that’s been done to get into position and be in the right places and figure out if I’m better off going in or back or side to side. It has been a learning process throughout the year.
It all contributed to the best defensive season of Happ’s career.
In the third leg of Thursday’s game against the Reds, Happ’s improved conviction in his decision-making on the left was on full display. He scrambled and made a sliding catch to deny Nick Senzel a hit on a ball with an 80% catch chance, according to Statcast. Three batters later, Happ sprinted to his left, chasing a TJ Friedl understudy into the gap (65% catch probability) with another sliding catch.
“I haven’t watched the rest of the league,” Ross said. “But it feels [like] he played one of the best left defensive fields in the league, for me. Hopefully he starts getting into that Gold Glove conversation.
Here’s a look at Happ’s defensive moves this season, compared to last year, across all positions:
Going into Thursday, only Cleveland’s Steven Kwan (16) had more defensive points saved than Happ (nine) in left field. Happ was third in Statcast’s Outs Above Average (one) among left fielders and fourth in UZR/150 (7.9). He had eight assists from the field (third among MLB left fielders) and just two errors (on field plays, not pitches).
Happ smiled when asked about possibly being in the mix for a gold glove.
“Honestly, it’s one of those honors that I thought about a lot as a kid when I was playing shortstop – not as much as a left fielder,” he said. “But, that would be really cool. It’s quite difficult to do when you play six places. It’s a bit easier when you get over 1,000 rounds in one go.