Could Colonel Happ Be Superior To The Judge?

If you’re having flashbacks to the climactic scene inĀ A Few Good Men, I get you. (And full disclosure, you won’t understand calling Ian Happ “The Colonel” if you’re not an insane Simpsons fan, and even then you might struggle. Anyway, Colonel Leslie “Happ” Hapablap, from the Air Show episode).

Usually, I think comparing two players is too random to really be of use. We do it so our minds can attach to some pattern we already know. Which is how we do most things in life, which is how you end up consistently chasing current/former riot girls with dyed hair who love The Clash and… wait, what? Anyway…

So a comparison of Ian Happ and Aaron Judge, on the surface, doesn’t make a ton of sense. They’re different builds, different players, apparently different skill-sets. But, they were both on the top-100 prospect lists before the season—with Happ ranking higher than Judge, actually. And when they both came up for air in The Show, they both had trouble not striking out. They both made a lot of about-faces back toward the dugout.

When both were called up, they had each torn apart AAA for a limited time. Happ only had 26 games, but put up a 144 wRC+ in those. Judge got 96 games, with a 147 wRC+. Pretty similar. Both had overcome a brief speed bump in their development, with Happ’s coming in Double-A in ’15 and Judge’s at his first attempt at Triple-A in ’15. Both tore apart High-A, one year apart, with each putting up a 147 wRC+ at that level in basically the same amount of games (69 for Happ, 66 for Judge).

Happ’s first foray into the majors has been smoother than Judge’s, only striking out 32.2% K-rate to Judge’s of 44.2% of 2016. Judge only managed four homers whereas Happ already has 12. They have the exact same walk-rate, 9.5%.

But what flummoxed Judge and is flummoxing Happ right now also seems to be similar. Here is Judge’s swing plot on breaking pitches last year:

Judge swing rate breaking

Here is Happ’s while batting left-handed:

Happ swing rate breaking

And now right-handed:

Happ RH swing rate break

As you might imagine, neither Judge last year or Happ this year are doing much with the breaking pitches they’re swinging at, especially out of the zone. It’s hard to with whiff-per-swing rates like this:

Judge whiffs per swing

Happ whiffs per swing

But as stated above, Happ is having more success—even with the obvious problems that he has with the way he’s being attacked. Judge was simply terrible last year, whereas Happ has a ..292 TAv in 2017. But obviously, Judge made some sort of adjustment. And here it is: his swing rate at breaking pitches this year.

Judge swing rate 17

Judge has really cut down on the breaking pitches he offers at outside the zone. You probably already know the numbers, but it’s the spray chart that I like (as you might already know how I feel about opposite field power. And if you don’t, let’s say it tickles me in a lascivious way). Here is Judge’s spray chart last year:

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 2.15.54 PM

And now this year:

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 2.17.07 PM

Tons more liners and home runs to the opposite field. Which kind of gives you the idea that Judge is letting the ball travel more and trusting himself to turn on heat when he gets it. Well, the good thing is that Happ already has no problems going the opposite way, at least from the left side. He has three homers to left field to go with the six he pulled from the left side, and the line drives are spread nicely as well.

So it seems like it’s just getting Happ to trust what he already can do more. And he seems to have a better baseline than Judge did. While he might not provide the raw, stupid power that Judge does, once Judge’s .423 BABIP calms down a bit… well, let’s just say Cubs fans will be pretty happy.

Lead photo courtesy Caylor Arnold—USA Today Sports

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