This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
The makeup of the Cubs’ roster this season has enabled manager David Ross to leave Ian Happ alone in left field. There has not been a need to move Happ around. That, in turn, has allowed the outfielder to narrow his preparation with the goal of owning and improving his defense in the corner.
“There’s a lot of the everyday reps and reads and familiarity with one spot,” Happ said. “That lets you continue to make better and better decisions, get better reads, understand the way that the ball comes off different hitters’ bats and kind of start grouping hitters together. Just playing one spot gives you the opportunity to do that.
“And then, there’s a lot of work that’s gone into positioning and being in the right spots and understanding if I’m better going in or going back or side to side. That’s kind of been a learning process all year.”
It has all added up to the best defensive season of Happ’s career.
In the third inning of Thursday’s game against the Reds, Happ’s improved conviction in his decision-making in left was on full display. He hustled in and made a lunging, sliding catch to rob Nick Senzel of a hit on a ball with an 80 percent catch probability, per Statcast. Three batters later, Happ sprinted to his left, chasing down a TJ Friedl liner in the gap (65 percent catch probability) with another sliding catch.
“I haven’t looked at the rest of the league,” Ross said. “But it feels [like] he’s played some of the best defensive left field in the league, for me. Hopefully, he’s starting to get into that Gold Glove conversation.”
Here’s a look at Happ’s defensive metrics this season, compared to last year, at all outfield spots combined:
Entering Thursday, only Cleveland’s Steven Kwan (16) had more Defensive Runs 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 outfield assists (third among MLB left fielders) and only two errors (on fielding plays and not throws).
Happ smirked when asked about the possibility of being in the mix for a Gold Glove.
“Honestly, that’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, it would be really cool. It’s pretty tough to do when you’re playing six spots. It’s a little bit easier when you’re getting 1,000-plus innings at one.”