Addison Russell’s 2018 power numbers look nothing close to his marks from prior seasons. He’s only hit five homers in 390 plate appearances and tallied a paltry .106 ISO, down from the .179 he produced in 2016 and 2017. And xStats, which uses batted-ball data to quantify what should happen, suggests the power outage is a real thing, too.
So, ugh, what’s the deal with Russell’s power?
Honestly, the outage is weird and it’s hard to pinpoint an answer. But the one drastically different peripheral that stands out is an increase in zone contact rate from 81 percent last season to 86 percent this season. Hitting more pitches is good, though, right?
Well, yeah, normally. But it’s possible that Russell’s increased contact is a result of a conscious approach change. After all, Chili Davis has preached situational hitting, which means more contact. Willson Contreras, Javy Baez, and other Cubs hitters have substantially increased their contact from last year, perhaps as a result of their new hitting instructor’s tutelage.
The issue, then, is how Russell is making contact. And what is apparent, even more so when you’re at the games, is that his swings don’t look the same as before. If I weren’t paying close attention, I might think Ryan Theriot or Mark Grudzielanek was up at the dish slapping oppo singles. Not that either was necessarily bad, it’s just that they’re not guys you want to be compared to when it comes to power numbers.
Below are examples of the “slappy” swing I’m referencing. Pay really close attention to Russell’s batting stance in all these GIFs, particularly in that August 6 swing because both his stance and hand depth are different from the other looks. When I mention a lack of comfort and inconsistency, this is exactly what I’m talking about.
Russell’s average exit velocity against pitches inside the zone last season was 91 mph. This year, though, it’s a touch below 90. Just one tick might not seem like a lot, but that’s resulted in an expected wOBA down more than 20 points from last season against in-zone pitches.
Maybe we need to exercise more patience while Russell is changing his hitting philosophy. Maybe his finger injury is a contributing factor. I don’t know.
What I do know is that it’s still within Russell’s ability to be a 20+ homer shortstop. This current Addison Russell is not the guy whose offensive potential I fell in love with, and this lack of power is not something any computer models projected (ZiPS projected 20 HR/600 PA in pre-season). But the power numbers probably won’t improve if he continues with this sort of approach.