Exit Interviews – Addison Russell
PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP
523 13 60 54 4 8.0 % 28.5 % .147 .324
AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
.242 .307 .389 .304 90 0.4 -5.7 17.1 2.9
While we all expected Kris Bryant’s call-up as soon as the extra year of control was secured two weeks into the season, Russell’s call-up just a couple weeks later was something of a surprise. We all knew his glove was major league ready, but this was still a player who missed over half of his Double-A season in 2014 with a hamstring injury and only got 11 games at Triple-A in April. But after La Stella went down, and Baez was deemed not ready, the Cubs run prevention needed some juice. Well, there was no bigger jolt for it than Russell, who quickly became one of the best defensive 2nd basemen around, and then for the last two months of the year became one of the best defensive shortstops anywhere. So consider that mission accomplished.
I start with Russell’s defense, because his value is almost entirely from his defense. While Russell would have a week or two where he would flash line-drive, gap-invading power and tendencies, overall Russell just wasn’t that good of a hitter. It’s right there for you to see, as his wRC+ is 90. That’s 10% worse than average. I don’t think he’ll be that forever, and labeling a 22-year-old with anything is dumb beyond belief. For right now, we can safely say there’s still some road to travel for him at the plate.
But the field? I mean, we don’t have to stretch too hard or worry about pulling anything when we say he’s the best shortstop in the field the Cubs have had in this generation and probably the couple before it. I can’t think of any, and certainly not starters. There may have been a couple bench players as good, but not one who played every day. And if there’s one spot you can have a defense-first stud, it’s short. Hell, the two teams in the just concluded World Series had one. You don’t have to be Brandon Crawford.
What’s amazing about Russell’s defense is that he really isn’t all that fast. Sure, stolen bases aren’t the best indicator of that and as he learns pitchers a little better that might go up. But watching him, he’s not fast. So his first step has to be something Matrix-like, and it is. And it’s only going to get better when he knows hitters and his own pitchers better and can cheat one way or the other before the pitch even starts.
The biggest concern I have with Russell is that’s two straight years where he’s missed time with hamstring problems, though all we know about the latest one is he missed a week and we don’t know if it would have gone on longer. These are kinds of the same issues Jorge Soler is dealing with, and it’s something the Cubs are going to have to monitor. Again, Russell probably still has some growing and sculpting to do which should assuage our fears, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
As for Russell at the plate, there’s just so little to go on. There’s only one full season in the minors, which basically came in High-A in the A’s system. There he walked 12% of the time, but does that translate? I don’t fucking know and I don’t know that anyone does for sure. A 28% K-rate isn’t going to get it done, we know that. At least not without a serious walk-rate. In the 2nd half of the year, Russell cut down on the amount of high fastballs he was whiffing on, so that’s a step in the right direction. But he could still be gotten out on breaking pitches below the knees, and that didn’t go away. Every surge forward was followed by a slump. Again, there’s a lot of work to be put in, because he only has now two full seasons as a professional. And his glove is going to make up for the growing pains while he figures it out.