Addison Russell does so many things well, but injuries and off-the-field issues took a noticeable toll on his performance last season. The 24-year-old has been in the league three years now and that his escalating salary and premium position have many questioning whether and when he’ll actually break out. But I caution you to not take Russell, who has accumulated a WAR total similar to previous Hall of Fame shortstops of the last several decades, lightly.
Russell shared his thoughts on what could be a big 2018 campaign when he addressed the media upon arriving at the Cubs’ spring training complex Saturday.
— ChicagoSports (@ChicagoSports) February 17, 2018
I’m stoked to see him look so refreshed and excited about the upcoming season. But in reality, I think he’s been ready since last August. To clarify that a little, I think his plate approach has been ready since then.
I’ve gone into great detail about Russell’s mechanical development, which has been greater in scale and scope than any of his young teammates. The short story of it all is that he was called up to the bigs in 2015 looking like Marlon Byrd. That is, he quickly got that front foot down and had next to no stride. Unlike Byrd, however, Russell’s hands were much higher as a rookie. But since 2015, he’s changed his hand depth, narrowed his stance, and incorporated a rhythmic foot stride.
Notice in this GIF from him in June of last season just how shallow his hands are here. And yes, he still hit a homer because he’s so damn quick.
He struggled most of that month and then fought like crazy with his hand depth in July. There were some at-bats during which he started his hands high, but others when his hands were low. To me, that’s a sign of being uncomfortable.
You can see what I’m talking about in the stills below, which come from two different games in the same series in Atlanta. Now, he does waggle his bat, so I’ll understand if you don’t find this to be the best example. But the fact remains that Russell inched his hands slightly higher in July and wasn’t consistent with the change.
Russell managed to post a .347 expected weighted on-base average (xOBA) despite the inconsistent mechanics, perhaps due to the those times when he did have the hands high. But then it’s like the light bulb turned on and he was like, “Screw it, I’m fully committing to that same hand depth from my second year, when I hit a grand slam in Game 6 of the World Series.”
True story: The Cubs actually went on to win that World Series.
If those shots from the series in Atlanta didn’t do it for you, take a look below at what happened in August. The image on the left is from a series in July against Chicago’s other baseball team, while the one on the right is August 1 against the D-backs (just before he was placed on the DL).
And now we take a look at that aforementioned granny, as well as Russell’s first career hit.
It’s too bad Russell hit the DL just when he was heating up. He didn’t lose a step when he was activated in September, though, and finished with his best xOBA of the season in September.
|Aug-17||8||0.416||High Hands -DL|
He carried some of those positive changes into the postseason, too. Remember that Game 5 go-ahead double off of perhaps the best pitcher in MLB, Max Scherzer? And how about that homer in Los Angeles in Game 2 of the NLCS?
It’s easy to get caught up in total season numbers. Granted, it does make sense to view the season as a whole for many metrics. Even so, assuming that a player is the same throughout the season is incorrect. So saying that Addison’s 2017 season was a complete disappointment is also incorrect, because we have a crystal clear example of how changes he made led to positive results.
If he’s able to maintain that higher hand position, it might permit him to maximize his rare skill-set. I expect to see Russell really hone in on what makes him most comfortable this season because that seems to be Chili Davis’s motto. I wouldn’t say last season was a disappointment at all, just part of the growth curve.