Ian Happ Stealthily Making Rapid Improvement in Pitch Recognition

Ian Happ is doing something incredibly impressive for a 23-year-old sophomore. Have you seen it?

Though his strikeout rate has been all people seem to want to talk about, there is a very real change taking place recently. Happ hasn’t swung at bad pitches…like, at all. The switch-hitting utility player typically swung at ~32 percent of pitches he saw outside the zone, but he’s only swinging at about 15 percent of those balls of late.

Happ’s adjustment happened sometime in May, during which he only swung at around 21 percent of bad pitches, as illustrated below. To witness such a dramatic improvement in sudden fashion is nearly mind-boggling for me.

For reference, Joey Votto owns MLB’s best O-swing rate at ~17 percent, and Javy Baez holds the worst rate at ~48 percent. The MLB average is right between these two players at ~30 percent. So if Happ continues to display such remarkable plate discipline, he’ll instantly catapult himself to the top of the plate discipline leaderboards, brushing shoulders with the likes of Joey Votto (17.5%), Andrew McCutchen (19.7%), and Matt Carpenter (20.1%).

But maybe Happ’s improvement is just small sample size, right? Not really. O-swing rate takes around 100 plate appearances to stabilize, so we can conclude that he’s more responsible for the change than sheer randomness or luck. And in Happ’s most recent 80 times at the plate, his o-swing rate is ~15 percent.

Despite the plate discipline improvements, his contact rate hasn’t improved concomitantly. Only making contact against 59 percent of pitches this season isn’t going to cut it, and his 65 percent contact rate since May isn’t a marked improvement. Making more contact is a necessity for Happ to get to the next level.

And if Happ’s sudden improvement when it comes recognizing pitches is any indication of what’s to come, I wouldn’t be surprised if he also starts to barrel up more and whiff less. There was no reason to think he’d suddenly stop swinging at pitches outside the zone prior to May, but it’s reasonable to believe that his results will improve if he keeps this up.

Do you get it? This is really good, folks. We can confidently say that Happ has adjusted at the plate and we should be encouraged going forward.

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