After Looking Like a Boy Among Men, Addison Russell is Hitting a Growth Spurt

Two games into his major league career, Addison Russell was sporting a robust .111 batting average with 10 strikeouts and no walks. He appeared somewhat lost, guessing at the superior stuff of the grown men he was facing. No surprise since, on average, the pitchers he was seeing were more than 7 years the senior of the newly-minted Youngest Player in the NL.

Russell was able to collect hits in both his second and third starts but those were sandwiched by 0-for-5 efforts that had many wondering if perhaps the Cubs had rushed their young star in the wake of Kris Bryant’s promotion. I’m not ashamed to admit that I wondered the same, though the kid’s tools were clearly evident.

All he’s done since that forgettable 4-game start is bat .343 with 6 RBI on the strength of a 10-game hitting streak that has included 7 extra-base hits (5 doubles, 2 home runs). Through 7 games in the month of May, Russell is slashing .364/.391/.773 with an OPS of 1.164. Yes, 1.164.

Small sample size, schmall sample size, those are some good numbers. Almost good enough to make you think of…what was his name again? Whatever, that other rookie the Cubs called up hasn’t even hit a home run yet.

In all seriousness though, there’s no reason to doubt that Addison Russell could be just as valuable to the Cubs as Kris Bryant as the team moves closer to the sustained success everyone’s been dreaming of since Theo Epstein came to town and did a slash-and-burn job on Jim Hendry’s mess.

The young man isn’t without his flaws though, as evidenced by a 46.2% K-rate. Yikes! And it doesn’t really get much better when compared to his paltry 3.8% walk rate. On the season, Russell is carrying a K/BB ratio of 24/2 that’s about 5 times higher than the MLB average.

His 64.8% contact rate is well below the league average of 79.5% and his swinging strike percentage of 15.9 is about 71% higher than the league average of 9.3. While Russell’s overall swing percentages don’t deviate too greatly from those of his new peers, he’s simply not making as much contact either in or out of the zone.

The contact issues stem from offspeed and breaking pitches, the quality of which he’s still getting acclimated to. According to Brooks Baseball, “he has had an exceptionally poor eye and a patient approach, with a disastrously high likelihood to swing and miss against breaking balls. Against Offspeed Pitches, he has had a very poor eye and an aggressive approach at the plate with a below average likelihood to swing and miss.”

That “disastrously high likelihood to swing and miss” is there on fastballs as well, but — and this is just the observation of my own untrained eyes here — it looks like he’s only just missing rather than flailing away and hoping to get lucky. When he is making contact, Russell has no problem getting around on the fastballs he’s seeing, as evidenced by the fact that nearly 81% of the balls he puts in play are to left and center.

The kid just looks so smooth, both at the plate and in the field, that it seems to belie the amount of pop he’s actually got. But the way he continues to lace two-base hits into the alleys tells the truth about his skill in a more descriptive manner than any journalist or hack blogger could ever hope to muster.

While Kris Bryant seemed born into the league as a fully-formed hitter with an MVP’s approach and respect, Russell was much more raw. As such, we’re getting the chance to see him mature before our eyes. I find this exceedingly appropriate too, since I’m watching my own Addison grow up more quickly than I ever would have imagined.

And just like raising a child, there will be days when Russell does things disappoint us and make us wonder what on Earth he was thinking. But more often than not, he’s going to give Cubs fans something to cheer for and feel proud of as he matures into a potential franchise cornerstone.


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