The ball rocketed off Ian Happ’s bat at 101 mph, the Cubs’ hardest contact all game.
Happ had already fouled off four pitches in the at-bat and stayed disciplined on two balls out of the zone. Then, Happ got a low fastball to hit, and he drove it into play. But Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor was there to collect the sharp ground ball and throw out Happ to end the inning.
That sequence from the Cubs’ 3-1 win Tuesday against the Mets summed up how Happ’s season is going. Happ entered play Wednesday leading the team in walks (11) and making consistent hard contact. But among the Cubs’ everyday starters, he has the second-worst batting average (.160) and lowest slugging percentage (.220).
“You’ve got to trust the process and trust the baseball gods,” Happ said Wednesday before the second game of the three-game series against the Mets. “And it's a long season, they're going to be good to me at some point. Maybe sacrifice a few chickens here.”
Happ barely cracked a smile and let the reference to the movie ‘Major League’ hang in the air.
Despite Happ’s low hitting numbers by traditional measures, other metrics paint a rosier picture. The leadoff hitter’s expected batting average (.232) and slugging percentage (.447) are much higher than their standard counterparts.
Happ also pointed to his expected weighted on-base average (.363), flyball rate (23.5%), walk rate (17.5%), hard-hit percentage (50%) and barrel percentage (11.8%) as promising signs.
“When the expected is a lot better than the results you're getting, it's a boost of confidence,” Happ said. “If it's the other way, if you’re getting really lucky and your metrics don't look so good, it can mess with you.
“But that's this game. It's playing with the mental side, and it's saying, ‘Hey, the expected stuff’s really good, just keep harping on that. Don't look up there at the board at whatever the number with the one in front of it is.”
For a guy who had just casually dropped “xwOBA” into the conversation, this was a less analytical approach. Only look at the set of statistics that make the hitter look better?
“Whatever makes you feel good,” Happ said, chuckling. “That’s part of the game, it’s all confidence.”