Ian Happ is having the best season of his career.  That's how the Chicago Cubs OF became an All-Star.

There is no singular reason for Ian Happ’s transformation into an All-Star.

The work he put in over the past year culminated in his being named an All-Star for the first time, a reward for rebounding from such a poor first half in 2021 that raised major questions about Happ’s future in Chicago.

Happ debuted two years after the Cubs made him the No. 9 pick in the 2015 draft, which led to much of his apprenticeship reaching the major league level surrounded by players who won a World Series together. Happ has weathered the ups and downs over the past six years, including being optioned to Triple-A Iowa at the start of the 2019 season, to become an All-Star.

Breaking down Happ’s offensive turnaround in 2022, three areas stand out.

Happ’s struggles against lefties were so pronounced last season that the switch hitter was essentially neutered as a viable lefty bat.

Happ produced a .213/.301/.352 slash line and a 30.4% strikeout rate in 125 plate appearances from the right side in 2021. However, those struggles didn’t cause him to reconsider whether he should focus solely on to bat left. delivered because he wasn’t going to help him get more at-bats.

“Being a left-to-left guy in this league wasn’t going to help that,” Happ told the Tribune. “The guys that have done it successfully are usually guys that are in a position where they’re defensive first and they’re going to be there no matter what or they’re on a team that tells them, like, hey, no matter what. What are you going to get at bat?

“I had a strong belief in myself as a right-hander, but changing that wasn’t going to change what was happening.”

Happ knew he could be a good right-handed hitter, recalling the success he experienced in his 2017 rookie season. But “external things dictated whether or not he was going to play right side.”

“You put pressure on yourself to act so that you’re there, and that doesn’t work,” Happ said. “That’s not how you go out and perform at the big league level.”

In 80 plate appearances as a right-handed hitter against lefties this season, Happ is hitting .347 with a .413 on-base percentage, .528 slugging percentage and .940 OPS. That output outstrips even his current southpaw numbers.

Happ credits the time and effort he put into his right-handed swing since the final two months of last year, when he became a regular in the lineup regardless of pitching matchups. He assumed a more relaxed demeanor, knowing that he could let loose and get back to basics without worrying about how it might affect his playing time. Happ described the adjustments to his right-handed swing and the extended success with him as “one of the things I’m most proud of and the maturation of where I am now.”

Hitting coach Greg Brown attributes Happ’s right-handed production to improving the way he gathers his body the same way he does when hitting from the left side. Brown thought Happ’s left side had a better feel by putting him in the correct swing process to go from his charging position to meet and then separate. It has become a focal point of Happ’s work with his right-handed swing.

“His work is very deliberate in that way, and to his credit, he took a nugget and then ran with it and has developed consistency in his swing,” Brown told the Tribune. “And that’s really what this is all about day in and day out.

“He’s really been the staple of our offense in terms of consistency on both sides of the plate. He’s given us good at-bats after good at-bats, so I’m really proud of him.”

Good things happen when players make contact. Coming off the highest K% of his since 2018, Happ needed to change something.

Gun precision and discipline in the strike zone have played a big role in reducing Happ’s strikeout rate. His K% is 8.3% lower than last season and 20.9% represents his career best. Fewer puffs against fastballs also help, bringing him down nearly 5% from 2021 and nearly 9% from 2020. Pitchers haven’t been able to use him as a breakout pitch like they have in the past.

“When you’re hunting and you’re on the right pitches, you finish the at-bat,” Brown explained. “So when we’re chasing or when we’re not really focused on a specific area, we end up extending at-bats, like they just miss pitches. He has done a very good job of putting the balls in play and putting the balls in play hard.

“We’ve seen that he had knowledge of the strike zone and now he’s done a much better job of covering the high pitch.”

Happ believes his better strikeout rate is due to a combination of factors: attitude, experience, a better understanding of how pitchers attack him and visual training. Happ reached out to Tommy La Stella in the offseason to discuss his former teammate’s visual training regimen. Happ wore one while playing at the University of Cincinnati, which had an eye training program.

“It was always something I thought about but never found or met the right person,” Happ said. “That’s something that I feel like he’s definitely contributed to.”

Vision training features a combination of exercises involving track balls and hand-eye coordination. Happ used an offseason schedule that continued through the season.

“I’ve always felt like it’s an underrated, underworked part of the game,” Happ said. “There are times in my career where I felt mechanically that I was right, but something was wrong with me. So to address that and think that, well, I can improve a little bit visually, I’ll be able to make contact or square some of those balls that I was missing.”

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Knockdowns and 0-fers can crush any player. Learning to work with them is imperative to major league success and consistency.

Brown praised Happ’s “tremendous” mental game and ability to focus.

“He’s someone who takes a lot of pride in preparation and does a lot of deliberate work on how he’s going to be attacked and how he wants to attack (the pitcher),” Brown said.

Happ says his mental focus has developed over the years, but the roots go back to his childhood. Former three-time Reds All-Star Sean Casey was a mentor to Happ and spoke often about the mental side of the game and the importance of him getting through a 162-game season.

“It’s one thing to be focused on your at-bats and what you’re doing, and the other part is intermission and how you deal with 0-for-4s and 0-for-5s, a couple bad at-bats and coming back and putting it all together.” Happ said. “That’s been a big emphasis of mine over the last 12 months and something that has definitely helped playing every day, but it’s been a process.”

Maintaining self-confidence and believing that mini-lows aren’t permanent or that they’re going to derail a season are part of the process. Players rely on different methods to get through those moments. Some newspapers, others like Happ talk about him. He says it has been very important to his way of thinking.

“I set up a separate system to be able to do that, to have those conversations to talk about your feelings,” Happ said. “That’s real, and you have to deal with it every day and you have to be open about it and talk about it.”

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