Baseball

Calling Up Ian Happ Now Is How We Got Here In The First Place

I understand where the sentiment comes from. When you’re watching Albert Almora perform some modern performance art interpretation of sadness at the plate these days, or Daniel Descalso do anything, or Addison Russell even exist, you can’t help but turn your lonely eyes to Ian Happ’s numbers lately and think, “Well that has to be worth a try.” And maybe that troika has been so god awful that any player showing any spasm of being able to make contact is worth a look. Fuck, that’s how Robel Garcia got here, and he might just be David Bote II (Electric Bugaloo) but at least something might happen when he’s at the plate.

And of late, Happ has been hitting. In July in Iowa, he’s slashing .314/.442/.614. That’s pretty tantalizing. You are forgiven for thinking it’s enough. After all, Almora has shown he might not be a major league hitter at all, and Russell is right behind him. You figure neither would be able to produce a hot three weeks in AAA either. So Happ has to be better. And by all reports he hasn’t accidentally strangled himself in the field, so…

The truth is for all of them, an itchy trigger finger is (at least partially) to blame for their struggles in the majors.

In Happ’s case, his ascension to Wrigley came after only one hot month in AAA in 2017. 28 games, after a slightly above average half-season in AA. And it worked out in 2017 ok, at least for part of it, as Happ was able to hit for enough power to cover up his Ks. And overall, he was just a tick above average last year, but we know the second half was truly ugly. There wasn’t much of a base to fall back on, which was part of the point of sending him down this year. To build that base. Does two and a half weeks count as enough? Sure, the clock is ticking and with the deadline just a week away, the Cubs have basically shuttered any window Happ might have had to prove he was an answer. Thing is, Happ shuttered it too by waiting until July to hit AAA pitching with the same golf balls they’re using at the top level.

You can keep going on this list. Almora never hit in the minors. His one “dominant” stretch was at single-A for a half season. He didn’t dominate at AA or AAA, and when he was called up in ’16 we were told it was basically for his glove. And then he just stayed, trying to build his bat at the major league level. You can see how that’s working out as you try and suffocate yourself in your work lunch.

Russell’s track record in the minors was a little better, but again his ascension to the majors was built more on rep than production. Setting aside the fact that he’s a scumshithead for a moment, Russell did surge offensively at AA for both Oakland’s and Chicago’s system. That was after murdering high-A in 2013. But his Double-A work was only for half of a minor league season because of injury. He played 11 games in AAA before being called up, again mostly for his glove opposite Starlin Castro, which eventually ended up being on both sides. Another example of a player being asked to do most of his learning curve at the major league level, and Russel has never produced an above-average offensive season as a Cub. And he’s way far from it now.

You could throw Schwarber on this list too if you were inclined. But Schwarber absolutely mauled AA in a way that the other three never came close to. But he still only got 17 games at AAA in ’15 before being called up, and his struggles in his first full season in ’17 could be partially attributed to a simple lack of reps at lower levels. Even his much famed demotion in ’17 lasted 11 games, and he’s at least been average offensively since, but nothing like what he flashed. Was the rush to blame?

Even with Happ’s hot three weeks, that’s still less than two months of success at the AAA level total. Time is of the essence for the Cubs, we know that, but is sweeping up Happ in that again going to give you a better answer? At worst right now he’s a September supplement who would still have a month to carve himself out playing time, even if it’s just against lefties (which he’s been better against in Iowa as well).

And right now, that feels like the best case scenario for him, especially if the Cubs make a move for a bat in the next week. Otherwise, you’d have to call him up, with the team’s playoff hopes hinging on him and a base of just one good month in Iowa. Doesn’t seem like enough.

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