Ryan Says: Thoughts on Happ, Schwarber, Beltre, and the Loss of a Friend

Hello, old friends, it’s good to see you again. It has been over two years since my last appearance on Cubs Insider, but Evan has been kind enough to allow me to spill some ink in this space once again. Once a week, I plan to bring you a few observations on the Cubs, baseball in general, and maybe life as we understand it.

Are you ready? Let’s do this.

Cubs rookie Ian Happ went from an unseen kid from Double-A that nearly every fan wanted to deal for a starting pitcher to completely untouchable in a manner of a few months. All things considered, that’s a quick rise. But after a torrid stretch that saw him post 13 home runs in just 203 plate appearances in his big-league debut, Happ has fallen on hard times in the second half.

Two hits Tuesday, including a homer, had him up to .222 (10-for-45) with two doubles and a homer in 14 games (11 starts) since the All-Star break. Over the last 27 days (68 PA’s), he has a .607 OPS. It’s not easy being a rookie and playing part-time – just ask Albert Almora Jr. about that – but to keep finding his name in the lineup semi-frequently, Happ needs to figure it out at the plate.

While he’s fine defensively, he’s not outstanding enough to warrant keeping in the lineup if he isn’t hitting. With just a month until September roster expansion, sending Happ to Des Moines seems extremely unlikey. But seeing him sit in favor of more playing time for Almora and the suddenly red-hot Kyle Schwarber is realistic.

• Speaking of Schwarber, FanGraphs’ Craig Edwards noted back in early June that Kyle Schwarber Is Not Bad At Baseball. That may have been news at the time, because the slugger’s OPS was .627 and his BABIP was a paltry .194. Edwards noted that Schwarber was still finding ways to make contact and had a .343 xwOBA, which he surmised should equal out to a wRC+ between 110 and 115. But at the time, Schwarber’s wRC+ was just 70.

Since June 1, and not including his numbers during a stint at Triple-A, Schwarber has indeed been Not Bad At Baseball. In 121 plate appearances, he has nine homers to go along with a .231/.339/.567 slash line. That’s good for a 131 wRC+, which is exciting even if his strikeout rate is still a tad high at 28.9 percent.

Credit that resurgence to whatever you like. You could point to his hard work with hitting coaches John Mallee and Eric Hinske. His mental break in Iowa could have played a part, as well. But don’t overlook the fact that Schwarber has primarily played against right-handed pitchers, as he has struggled against lefties to this point in his career (.830 OPS against RHP versus .596 against LHP). Either way, his bat has been a welcome addition.

Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre collected his 3,000th hit this week, capping what many assume will be a Hall of Fame career. But is he worthy of being enshrined? The numbers suggest that even asking that question is moronic. Since 1947 (counting only players from the Integration Era) Beltre ranks third in WAR behind Eddie Mathews and Mike Schmidt among players that primarily played third base. In hits, he is third behind Wade Boggs and George Brett. In home runs, fourth behind Chipper Jones, Mathews, and Schmidt.

Beltre has never won an MVP, coming closest back in 2004 with the Los Angeles Dodgers when he posted a 161 wRC+ on the strength of 48 homers. He has played in one World Series, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals back in 2011 despite posting a .889 OPS in the seven-game series – thanks a lot, Nelson Cruz.

But Beltre’s hitting numbers and WAR have him ranked up there with the best third basemen in the history of the game, not to mention his longevity and excellence on defense. If Beltre isn’t a first-ballot Hall of Famer, they need to fire everyone that failed to mark his name out of a cannon into the sun.

• I wanted to finish with a quick note about John Arguello. As many readers will know, John was the founder and lead writer at Cubs Den, a “rival” Cubs blog that lives on the Chicago Now platform. He passed away this week due to complications from non-Hodgkins lymphoma, leaving behind his wonderful wife, Stacey, and beloved dog, Vivi.

But John was so much more than what his byline or website bio would tell you. He was one of the kindest and most wonderful human beings I ever had the chance to meet. At a time when I was unsure about my path in the sports journalism industry, it was John who was the first to tell me that I was good enough and smart enough to make it in baseball. I’ll never forget that.

Over the last few years, I grew close with John. We talked about the Cubs, the process of scouting, his life in Mesa, and scotch (of which I am not a fan). Although it makes me sad to look back and realize it now, he meant way more to me personally than he probably ever knew. Thanks for all the help, the listening ear, and the kind heart. You will always be remembered.

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