Ian Happ: MVP
Ian Happ, host of the Compound podcast, is an unlikely MVP candidate. Since busting out with 24 HRs his rookie year, his MLB numbers have been a bit up and down. He struggled mightily his sophomore year, leading to him spending most of year three at AAA. That seasoning appears to have fixed him, because he put up a 128 OPS+ in 2019, before breaking out for a 183 OPS+ this year (as of 9/6/20, which has him as the league leader right now).
There is a very legitimate argument that Ian Happ deserves the MVP award. Obviously the rest of the season needs to shake out, and Happ has to keep it up. But there's a very likely chance that Happ could become the MVP. If you see his Vegas odds, he's not the favorite, but becomes a very enticing bet.
In 2020 so far, Ian has a line of .311/ .421/ .648 /1.068. Here is where Happ ranks in the National League's major stats:
OPS: 2nd (Soto at 1.211, Happ at 1.068)
WAR (Fangraphs): 4th (Presently he has 2.2 WAR, more than Mike Trout's 2.0)
After scooting through leaders, here are the likely NL MVP candidates besides Happ:
• Fernando Tatis Jr: The Padres have been a surprise, and Tatis Jr. has been an offensive anchor. 2.8 WAR 174 RC+ .308/ .392 /.654 / 1.046. The Padres have a 24-17 record, presently in second.
• Mike Yastremski: He's somewhat quietly putting up a great year 2.4 WAR 167 RC+ .299 / .416 / .597 /1.013. The Giants are in 4th, with a 45% chance of slipping into the expanded playoffs.
• Mookie Betts: The best player on the best team. The Dodgers are lapping the competition, and Betts is right in the middle of it. 2.4 WAR, 171 RC+. He has a healthy slash of .309 /.385 / .624 /1.009
• Juan Soto: Has about 30 less ABs then Happ and is unqualified for leaders, but has a healthy .354 /.453 /.758 / 1.211 slash line and 208 RC+, 1.4 WAR. However, the Nationals are in the cellar, at 14-24.
Here's the deal, Happ has a better batting average and OBP than the other qualified frontrunners. His power is right there with them as well. Based off those merits alone, he's got a healthy shot at the MVP. What gets considered next is value. When voting for the MVP, some people will just go for the best player on the best team (which is Betts this year, or KB in 2016). Sometimes, it goes to the best player on a surprise playoff contender (Tatis this year, Yellich in 2018). Sometimes, it goes to the best player overall, regardless of record (Stanton in 2017, Soto this year). Happ's season and value to the Cubs checks a lot of these boxes for potential votes.
Mookie has protection from Seager (.969 OPS), and 6 other OPS+ over 100 hitters in a fearsome Dodgers lineup. Including Tatis, the Padres have 6 hitters with an OPS+ over 122, including 5 over 150. Yastremski's Giants have 7/9 hitters over 112 OPS+. Ian Happ's Cubs? Just 2 hitters with a OPS+ over 120. Bryant is having a terrible 54 RC+ campaign. Baez is at 60. Willson Contreras just got over the 100 mark with a big game. Anthony Rizzo is at 118, where he's been a 130 average for his career. Ian Happ is anchoring this Cubs offense.
Furthermore, he's anchored both center field and the leadoff spot in the lineup. He's not going to win a Gold Glove, But if he didn't exist, we'd be seeing Albert Almora or the recent cut Steven Souza getting heavy plate appearances. CF is not a position of depth for the Cubs. Bryant was the Cubs opening plan for leading off, and it's been a disaster. Ian Happ's value to the Cubs cannot be understated. That two and a half win WAR might be the difference between 1st and 2nd place in the division on paper, but it looms larger considering how many holes he's filled on this 2020 Cubs team.
If the Cubs stay in first, and the rest of the team maintains their current trajectory, Ian Happ deserves the MVP. He's been a great hitter on a team that desperately needs it. He's among the best in the league, while not having the same guys in the lineup the other frontrunners will have. He belongs in the conversation because of both his numbers and value. If the season continues on as it has, Ian Happ is your 2020 NL MVP, and a deserving one at that.