Back at His Natural Position, Addison Russell Appears to be Hitting His Stride
It’s not often you see a guy who’s been to multiple All-Star games displaced mid-season by a rookie who’s hitting only .242, but Addison Russell isn’t the type of player who comes along very often. Rather than invoke Starlin Castro’s struggles any more though, I want to focus on what the new kid has been doing this season, particularly after taking over the role everyone knew he was going to win eventually.
When Addison Russell was called up in late April, Joe Maddon was quick to throw his support behind Castro while still foreshadowing the inevitable change. “Starlin’s the shortstop, man,” Maddon declared on 670 The Score’s Spiegel and Goff show. “He’s been outstanding. Addison’s up here to play second,” the skipper continued before setting the stage for the eventual move by adding, “[Russell]’s still a future major league shortstop, there’s no question about that.”
I was calling for a change a couple months ago, though my reasoning was that it might shake the veteran out of his prolonged funk. What I hadn’t anticipated was just how well Russell would respond to being on the right (as in correct, for him) side of second base. This is a mental game, and it looks as though the rookie has really found his legs now that he’s standing in a different position.
Though he’d gotten a couple spot starts, Russell was the Cubs’ second baseman for a vast majority of the first 91 games of his career. In that time, he slashed .235/.299/.359, with a .658 OPS and a wRC+ of 83 (100 is average and the bigger the number the better) to go with 7 homers, 35 runs, and 28 RBI. Not bad for a rookie middle infielder, but nothing to really get too excited about either. Russell showed some pop and his 18 doubles spoke to his ability to drive the ball into the gap, but something just wasn’t clicking.
Until, that is, he took over at short. It’s only been a couple weeks but since he moved over, Russell has slashed .317/.341/.537 with a .878 OPS and a 137 wRC+ that would rank 1st in the majors among shortstops were it based on a larger sample size. That’s important to note, as this could simply be an aberrant little streak for a young hitter. I don’t think that’s the case though. Russell clearly has the ability to , as he showed with a home run on Thursday night.
But beyond the offense, Russell brings the heightened defensive element the Cubs have lacked over the past several seasons. Castro was capable of making some spectacular plays, but he’d somehow find a way to boot the routine grounders. Russell can make all the same highlight-reel grabs and then some, but is just more poised when it comes the run-of-the-mill stuff that is required to be successful over the course of a season.
Even in the face of Castro’s struggles, it took serious balls for Joe Maddon to make the change in his lineup and alignment. So far, Addison Russell is proving that it was the right move, and I believe this is a trend we’re only going to see improve in the future.