Addison Russell’s Bum Thumb Raises Questions About Cubs’ Reluctance to Use IL

Among the various topics Theo Epstein discussed with Mully & Haugh on 670 The Score Thursday morning was the bruised right thumb Addison Russell suffered earlier this month. Epstein said he believes the injury, which Russell suffered on a slide in Colorado June, may be responsible for the second baseman’s anemic production (my words) of late.

Russell went into that game slashing .262/.319/.462 with a 19.2% strikeout rate, four home runs, and a 102 wRC+ that said he was a league-average hitter over his first 72 plate appearances. In the 28 plate appearances since, however, he’s been nothing short of abysmal. A .167/.250/.167 slash line and 35.7% K-rate with no homers leads to a wRC+ of 5 that says Russell shouldn’t be in the lineup on a regular basis.

Though his top hand shouldn’t control his ability to hold onto the bat, it’s possible that having full use of only one opposable digit is contributing to Russell’s penchant for tossing his lumber around. And taping the thumb/hand probably isn’t an option because it’d mean reducing his grip on the ball. All of which leads us to the big issue.

If the bruise is so bad that it makes Russell 95% worse than the average hitter, why in the blue hell is he on the active roster? Regardless of what you feel about his presence in general, there’s absolutely no reason to keep running an injured player out there if he’s going to be a detriment to the team. I mean, his production was fungible even when fully healthy.

Even if medical professionals agree that continued activity won’t make the issue worse, the prospect of any injury to any player dragging his performance down is reason enough to use the IL. The whole point of abbreviating what was once a 15-day convalescence was to get teams to utilize it more frequently so players could better avoid lingering issues. That’s something the Cubs seem to have been woefully reluctant to recognize over the past few years, with Ben Zobrist’s bum wrist in 2017 standing out as a prime example.

They were actually proactive with Kyle Hendricks’ shoulder impingement, which was nice to see. Epstein mentioned that imaging showed no structural damage and that the prognosis for Hendricks has not changed, all of which is good news. Pitchers, though, receive a little more discretion when it comes to shoulder and elbow issues. And since they’re only going every five days, a minimum IL stint might only cost them one start.

For the Cubs, who have prospects like Trent Giambrone and Robel Garcia waiting in the wings, to keep running Russell out there in the face of an obvious diminution of his abilities seems incredibly foolish. David Bote should be getting a majority of the reps at second for his bat alone, but there’s another reason to be judicious with Russell’s playing time at this point.

If the Cubs want to maintain any hope of building enough trade value in their former starting shortstop, having him play through a debilitating injury is a terrible idea. Bruises heal, but watching Russell flailing helplessly at low-90’s heat is hard to forget. Even more indelible is the image of Dodgers players openly trolling him by taping a bat to their hands during ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball broadcast.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why the Cubs opted not to place Russell on the IL at some point after the injury. He sat for a few games afterwards and has looked awful at the dish in the time since, though I suppose the ship may have sailed on that by now.

While I willingly admit that this could be yet another knee-jerk reaction to something about which I have admittedly little information, I just can’t wrap my brain around the decision to keep Russell active. And I’m only talking about the bruise in this case, though the conversation could certainly be expanded.

If asked to rate the choice, I’d give it two thumbs down.

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