Through 26 games in the month of April, the Cubs were seventh in MLB with 37 homers, roughly 1.4 longballs per game. They hit 29 over 28 May games, just over one per game, to put them in a tie for 19th place on the month. June is still very young, but the Cubs’ four homers in seven games are 23rd in baseball, nine behind the Braves and Blue Jays.
Look, no one thought this was going to be a slugging team and that’s not really the point here. The issue is that the Cubs have clearly been unable to score enough runs on a consistent basis, a large factor in which is the inability to put the ball over the fence with any sense of regularity. And a big part of that comes from the total disappearance of Ian Happ‘s power stroke.
Before we get into this further, I want to let you know that what we’re not going to do is blame this on Happ getting an extension. The $61 million deal he signed earlier in the year only covers him through his age-31 season, so he’s still in line for something very significant down the road. And while that’s life-changing money for most people, it’s hardly an example of getting the bag these days in MLB.
The other reason we’re not blaming the contract is that Happ’s overall offensive production is above his career norms in most areas. His 121 wRC+ is very strong, he’s walking at a 17% clip that would be his best ever if he maintains it, and he’s on pace to steal double-digit bases for the first time. He’s been an excellent performer on the whole and that can’t be overlooked.
However, he also plays a position from which a decent amount of power is expected and he’s not even close to his peers in that regard. Among all left fielders with at least 100 plate appearances, Happ’s four dingers put him in a tie for 32nd. Even allowing for the fact that not all of those players are in left on an everyday basis, it’s not a great look.
What’s even more concerning — or just perplexing — is that Happ hasn’t homered since May 5, a drought that has reached 130 plate appearances. He has six doubles and has driven in as many runs with five runs scored during that time, but those aren’t the numbers you need to see from a three-hole hitter. His average is only at .236 over the last month-plus, and the abject lack of power has him at a 91 wRC+ with an anemic .057 ISO.
To put that measure of raw power into context, Happ ranks 149th out of 153 players who’ve logged at least 100 plate appearances in that same time. For what it’s worth, Javier Báez is 150th with a .042 ISO. Yikes.
The root causes for this power outage are manifold and probably can’t be explained by anyone other than Happ himself, if he even knows. One issue is that the Cubs seem to have faced an inordinate number of left-handed pitchers lately, with four of their last five games coming against southpaws. While that only represents a small stretch of the drought in question, Happ’s production as a right-handed hitter this year has deviated wildly from his career marks.
He was actually better from the right side last season, posting higher numbers in many non-counting stats after having previously produced noticeable splits. That trend has made an about-face this season, with his batting average (.222 vs. 284), wOBA (.305 vs. .367), and wRC+ (90 vs. 132) all significantly lower from the right side. His walks and strikeouts are pretty similar from both sides of the plate, so that’s a good sign that he’s seeing the ball well and can perhaps make corrections.
Those corrections are going to have to come pretty soon if the Cubs have any chance of finishing higher than fourth in the division, though last place is looking like more of a possibility than third. The schedule from now until the trade deadline offers little indication that they can hit that winning streak Jed Hoyer is hoping for, so he’s going to have to keep fielding questions about whether he’ll be selling once again. Then there are the questions about why the hell he’s selling for the third straight season.
I don’t mean to put the fate of the team on Happ’s shoulders because his power outage is just one of several factors that have led to this point. Even if it doesn’t hasten the timeline of the rebuild this season, Happ hitting more home runs would at least make watching this team a wee bit more bearable.