CHICAGO – Cubs outfielder Ian Happ is taking fewer swings and reaching base more often.
Happ suffered a slow start in April and manager Joe Maddon prescribed more time with hitting coach Chili Davis.
Since then, Happ’s selectiveness is making a difference. Although his current batting average (.252) is only a few points higher than what it was through April 30 (.246), his walk rate has risen considerably and his on-base percentage was above .400 in May and June after April’s .297 on-base percentage.
“I’m doing a better job controlling the strike zone, really only offering at pitches I think I can do damage on,” Happ said.
Through April, Happ had drawn five walks. In May he drew 17 and in June he drew 16. According to Fangraphs, Happ is swinging at 6.1 percent fewer pitches in 2018 than he did in 2017, his first season in the big leagues.
As far as hits are concerned, June was his best month yet this season. He hit .268, although the power numbers weren’t there (one home run, four RBIs, .352 slugging).
Happ has made himself a valuable part of the Cubs’ crowded outfield, even though he isn’t necessarily starting every day.
“When you play every day you get a chance to put together 10 to 20 at bats, get a little bit of a feel,” Happ said. “That definitely helps. That’s something that, on this team, you’ve got to be prepared to do both [start and come off the bench].”
Outfielder Jason Heyward has seen a number of his younger Cubs teammates go through similar situations. It can be hard for a player to see the level of development he wants when he’s not starting every day.
“It’s kind of the same story with a lot of these guys and this team the last few years,” Heyward said. “They come up, make an immediate impact, and then they don’t get to play, to get the full reps. The growth we’re talking about is not a natural growth.
“You’re not getting your true reps. You’re not getting your true ups and downs of this game at this level without being able to play. It’s just a hard thing to do.”
Happ has learned a lot from watching how Heyward approaches the game. Happ admires Heyward’s instincts defensively in the outfield. Happ has spent time at all three outfield spots, sharing time with Albert Almora Jr. in center, Kyle Schwarber in left and Heyward in right.
Almora noted that Happ might have been a little upset with himself early in the season, but the work is paying off.
“It’s human nature,” Almora said. “You want to perform for yourself, first and foremost, and for the guys, help the guys win. That’s the goal.”
Happ said the Cubs are pretty open with each other when it comes to working through their struggles and bouncing ideas off each other.
He feels he has learned a lot about weathering the ups and downs since he came to the big leagues in May 2017. Davis, who is in his first season as Cubs hitting coach, has been a valuable asset.
“We talk a lot about approach, his experience in the game has been really helpful,” Happ said. “He was a switch-hitter. It’s nice to be able to hear his experiences, and I’m able to get a feel for the different things that he tried to do.”
Happ, who was the Cubs' first-round draft pick in 2015 (ninth overall), hit 24 home runs as a rookie last season. His 40 walks this season already are one more than he had in all of 2017.