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Nearly two months ago, after a game in which he produced another pair of highlight-reel plays, Ian Happ’s manager made it known that he thought Happ had played his way into Gold Glove consideration.
“I haven’t looked at the rest of the league, but it feels like he’s played some of the best defensive left field in the league, for me,” Cubs manager David Ross said on Sept. 8. “Hopefully, he’s starting to get into that Gold Glove conversation.”
Happ was certainly in that conversation by then, and Tuesday, almost eight weeks later, Ross’ vote of confidence was rewarded — Happ was named the 2022 National League Gold Glove Award winner for left field.
This is Happ’s first Gold Glove in his six year career, and he’s the fourth Cubs outfielder to win the award, following Bob Dernier (1984), Andre Dawson (1987-88) and Jason Heyward (2016-17). Happ earned the award over Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich and Arizona/Tampa Bay’s David Peralta.
Happ had a breakout season defensively, playing roughly 99 percent of his innings in left field and excelling. The first five seasons of his career were marked by Happ constantly shifting around the field, even moving to the infield and playing first, second and third base (the latter two as recently as 2021) throughout his Cubs tenure.
But as the Cubs tore down their previous core over the last two years, Happ found a home in left field and had the freedom to play there on an everyday basis. And that allowed him to flourish with his glove.
“I think this kind of completes the package of feeling like you’re a really well-rounded player in this league and have just the ability to impact the baseball on both sides,” Happ said Tuesday. “It’s been a long road on both sides of the ball, but definitely defensively, with all the different positions. Finding a home and feeling like not only are you able to play there every day, but you’re able to make an impact and do so in a positive way and have this kind of recognition is really cool.”
With respect to the other finalists, this didn’t feel like much of a race.
According to FanGraphs, Happ led all NL left fielders in putouts (274), defensive runs saved (13) and ultimate zone rating (8.3) — with second-place finishers not all that close. His eight assists were second only to San Diego’s Jurickson Profar (10), and his one out above average fell behind only Peralta (four) and St. Louis’ Tyler O’Neill (two), though Happ’s came in more innings in left than the other two combined.
Overall, Happ was the best defensive left fielder in the NL in 2022, and Tuesday’s award confirmed that.
Happ said near the end of the season that he’d dreamed of winning a Gold Glove as a kid, and he called it “a pretty cool trophy.” Now, he ends his first All-Star season with a new piece of hardware to put in his trophy case.
“To be able to have this one on the mantle and to have the award with my name on it is really, really cool,” Happ said.
With a Gold Glove-worthy season also comes a host of Gold Glove-worthy highlights, and Happ racked up more than a few in 2022.
So, here are six plays that defined Happ’s Gold Glove season (video and Statcast credits to Baseball Savant):
April 27 at Atlanta
Statcast catch probability (star-rating): 70% (3 stars)
Opportunity time: 4.8 seconds
Distance needed: 80 feet
This may not be the most impressive out on the list, but when Happ was asked Tuesday about which plays from his season stuck out most, he pointed to this one as one of the three. Atlanta’s Travis Demeritte roped a 101.6 mph liner off Keegan Thompson with a .680 expected batting average, and yet, Happ made it look like a relatively easy catch.
“I got a really good jump on it and ran it down,” Happ said, “and that was kind of the first play of the year that I made where I was like, ‘All right, I think I’m feeling pretty comfortable out here.'”
April 30 at Milwaukee
Statcast catch probability (star-rating): 5% (5 stars)
Opportunity time: 2.8 seconds
Distance needed: 37 feet
In 28 opportunities to make a five-star catch this past year, this was the only one that Happ pulled off successfully. And man, was it impressive.
Off the bat, it looked like Milwaukee’s Lorenzo Cain had an easy single considering it was hit with a 106.2 mph exit velocity. But Happ quickly tracked down the potential base knock and completed a catch that Statcast gave him only a 5 percent chance to make. If his play three days earlier was Happ’s arrival as a left fielder, this was the one that showed he had Gold Glove chops.
May 30 vs. Milwaukee
Statcast catch probability (star-rating): 50% (4 stars)
Opportunity time: 4.4 seconds
Distance needed: 76 feet
This one is cheating just a little bit, because it came in the third of just three games in which he played in center field in 2022, but it was too good of a play to leave it off the board completely.
Milwaukee’s Luis Urías launched a ball toward the gap in right-center, and because Happ appeared to be shifted a bit to his right, he had a lot of ground to cover. And that he did, laying out for the ball just before the warning track and making the play on what would’ve been an extra-base hit.
Center field is no longer Happ’s primary position at this point in his career, but it looks like if Ross needs someone to make a play out there, Happ would be up to the task.
June 26 at St. Louis
Statcast catch probability (star-rating): 55% (3 stars)
Opportunity time: 5 seconds
Distance needed: 91 feet
Another one of the plays Happ pointed to Tuesday when asked for his favorite plays of the season. This wasn’t the last time this year that Happ made this kind of play, but it likely was the most important.
With the two outs, a runner at first and the game tied at 5 in the bottom of the seventh, St. Louis’ Paul Goldschmidt sent a ball in to the left field corner and would’ve given the Cubs’ biggest rival a one-run lead had it hit the ground. But Happ tracked it all the way into the corner — a spot his teammates and coaches in the dugout couldn’t even see — and made the play as the Cubs eventually won, 6-5.
“I couldn’t see, so I was holding my breath,” Ross said at the time. “… It’s a really tough play. He’s made a bunch of those plays this year. Really nice play.”
Sept. 3 at St. Louis
Statcast catch probability (star-rating): 40% (4 stars)
Opportunity time: 3.6 seconds
Distance needed: 53 feet
The second of Happ’s plays against the Cardinals on this list also had the second-lowest catch probability of all his catches on the season. Happ said Tuesday that he had been keeping track of all the defensive metrics throughout the season, and he noticed himself pulling away with a great defensive performance in August.
He then mentioned a group of plays he made during an early September series in St. Louis — this robbery of a Tommy Edman base hit was one of them — and “before you know it, I was kind of running away with it.” As Happ embarked on the last month of the season, this play was another reminder of how much he’d improved on the defensive end in 2022.
Sept. 29 vs. Philadelphia
Statcast catch probability (star-rating): 65% (3 stars)
Opportunity time: 4.6 seconds
Distance needed: 77 feet
This one put a stamp on Happ’s Gold Glove candidacy. Another day, another sliding play into the tricky left-field corner at Wrigley Field.
It may not have been his most impressive play of the season in terms of Statcast, but it just cemented the fact that he had been a Gold Glove-caliber player all season and would continue playing that type of defense to the very end. If they were to have shown just one highlight when Happ was announced as the winner, it should’ve been this one.
“I don’t know where he stands as far as defensive runs saved or any of that metrics-wise,” Ross said at the time, “but I know he’s played a really, really good left field for us and played that wall as good as anybody. … He’s been just as consistent as a player as I’ve ever seen him this year, on all sides of the ball.”
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