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Why Ian Happ might be the star who bridges the Cubs’ gap from one championship contender to the next

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Late last week, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo made a comment about this possibly being the last ride for the nucleus of the Cubs that won the 2016 World Series. I elaborated on the statement to illustrate why he’s correct. Here’s the main takeaway for those who don’t care about the details: 

The bet is they know how popular Javier Baez is and will make him a Cub for life. It is not, however, out of the question that Lester, Rizzo, Bryant, Contreras and Schwarber are playing somewhere else come 2022 or even 2021. 

With holdovers like Kyle Hendricks, David Bote and Nico Hoerner — not to mention the possibility of extending Baez — there’s hope the Cubs can retool on the fly instead of a massive teardown that happened immediately after Theo Epstein arrived. Also providing hope is center fielder Ian Happ, who is under club control through 2023 and could possibly sign a club-friendly extension if they approached him now. 

Happ spent a good portion of 2019 in the minors working things out, but he really locked in late last season and there’s been carry-over. 

In his last eight games last year, Happ hit .480/.519/1.200 with three doubles, five homers and 12 RBI. 

Now possibly stealing the leadoff spot from the struggling and ailing Kris Bryant, Happ is hitting .315/.438/.671 with six doubles, a triple, six homers and 14 RBI. The batted ball data backs up those numbers, too, as does the eye test. Happ is torching the ball this season. Entering Wednesday, Happ was sitting in the 70th percentile of average exit velocity, 80th percentile of hard hit percentage and 77th percentile of barrel percentage. 

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The talent has been there for years. He does just about everything well when he’s right. He just went through bouts of extreme inconsistency and has long struck out far too often. He has a good eye, in general, but he swings through a lot of pitches. He’s still striking out around his career levels, but he’s walking more than double his rate from last season his outside-zone swing rate has plummeted as has his overall swing percentage. He’s swinging less than he ever has, but when he does he’s making the hardest contact he ever has. 

Happ might be one of the guys who can bridge the Cubs from one championship contender to the next. He definitely looks the part in 2020. 


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