Addison Russell Giving Middle Finger to Offensive Production
Among all the possible superlatives and pejoratives applied to Addison Russell over the course of his career, perhaps the most accurate and all-encompassing is “streaky.” All players are going to run hot or cold at various points of the season, but Russell is particularly prone to periods of polar-opposite production. Much of that stems from his inability to settle into a repeatable stance and swing, something that has been an unfortunate hallmark of his young career.
There have been physical issues here and there as well, like the bum shoulder or plantar fascitis that derailed much of Russell’s 2017 season. This year’s lingering malady is a sprained left middle finger that has Russell flipping the bird at any semblance of consistent offensive output.
He initially suffered the injury back on June 3 against the Mets, then reaggravated it on July 1 against the Tigers when the digit was stepped on during a collision with Javy Baez. Russell is adamant that he’s still able to play through the pain and that the days off help with that, but his stats tell a different story.
Through June 2 (201 PA), the shortstop was slashing .270/.345/.371 with a .313 wOBA and wRC+ of 94. For whatever reason (or no reason at all beyond pure timing), those numbers actually shot through the roof in June (76 PA) when he slashed .324/.382/.500 with a .379 wOBA and wRC+ of 137.
As a very quick primer for those of you who aren’t intimately familiar with those latter two “w” stats, they’re essentially overall offensive measurements. League-average wOBA this season is .315 and wRC+ should come out to 100, anything above those marks is solid. Russell’s June was beyond solid as he hit three of his five home runs and finished with a five-game hitting streak.
He actually opened July by extending that streak to seven games, but his results have resembled ipecac syrup since exacerbating the finger injury. Russell’s slash over his last 148 plate appearances (not including Sunday) has dropped to an untenable .207/.267/.259 with a .238 wOBA and a wRC+ of only 44. Since hitting five doubles in his first eight July games, he has notched only two two-baggers in 113 subsequent plate appearances.
Those doubles represent his only extra-base hits in this more recent sample, which is bad enough before you consider that Russell hadn’t hit anything more than a single since the calendar turned to August. That changed with a pinch-hit double Sunday, though he was subsequently picked off of third after wandering too far from the bag. What had been a golden opportunity for the Cubs to score their first run in the series on something other than a solo shot turned into a wet fart in a hurry.
From a swing that looks like he’s trying to return serve in a backyard badminton game to some uncharacteristic lapses in judgment, Russell has been a detriment to the team over the past month and a half. It’s painfully obvious that the finger is still affecting him to a significant degree, possibly on the mental side as well as the physical. And while he remains excellent in the field, that’s not been enough to offset the slumping offense.
We saw similar struggles with Kris Bryant last season as the slugger’s power numbers dipped due to a “brutal” finger issue that was much worse than he initially let on. But even with the finger — along with ankle and leg injuries — sapping some of his stats, Bryant never got to the point where you wondered why the hell he was in the lineup.
And the way Russell is playing right now, there’s a very legitimate argument to be made that he needs some extended time on the bench. Between David Bote, Ben Zobrist, and Javy Baez, the Cubs have plenty of other infielders who can shoulder the load and allow Russell to really let that finger heal up.
That’s particularly true when facing righty pitchers, against whom Russell has a .644 OPS on the season that is dragged down by a .473 mark since July. Contrast that with Zobrist, who has a .914 OPS against righties that’s buoyed by a stellar .961 since July. Hey, didn’t he have a wrist deal that all but ruined his own production last season?
It’d be unreasonable to expect a redux of Russell’s June down the stretch even with a return to full health, but simply reproducing those pre-June numbers would be a big improvement at this point. And he’s got to get something going soon because it’s pretty clear that what Russell’s bringing to the table right now isn’t going to work.
The trouble with chronic issues like this is that even two weeks on the DL might not be enough to really set things right. In that case, all Joe Maddon can really do is continue to give Russell frequent rest while picking the right matchups to mask any deficiencies. If things don’t start to improve in a meaningful way, though, Russell’s total lack of pop and overall offensive anemia may be impossible to cover up much longer.