Best of the Nines: Addison Russell Tops the Bottom of the Order
Among many baseball axioms is the thought that you put your worst hitter at the bottom of the order. While some teams will bat a light-hitting catcher in the 8th spot, ostensibly to keep him near his battery-mate, the 9-hole is usually reserved for pitchers. Well, in the NL anyway. But Joe Maddon is anything but usual, so he’s chosen to hit his pitchers 8th as a rule.
It’s not just made science either, this bucking of the accepted lineup construction rationale. Hitting the pitcher one spot earlier actually creates about 2 more runs per season, if what I’ve seen is true. Of course, that’s assuming the guy hitting behind him at 9 is nothing more than your standard Punch-and-Judy, slap-hitting middle infielder. But in Addison Russell, the Cubs have a guy at the bottom of the order who’s anything but.
In fact, Russell has quickly established himself as the best 9-hole hitter in baseball. Yes, you read that right. Despite having played in the majors for less than a month, Russell has already compiled better stats than any of his new colleagues. And I’m not just talking about the Nation League either; after all, the comparison would be pretty weak were to judge him against a bunch of pitchers.
No, Russell’s numbers stand out when compared to the rest of Major League Baseball, to the extent that watching him play makes some want to call it bae’s ball. In all seriousness though, what he’s doing from a spot in the order not traditionally known for big production is really impressive. His 21 hits rank 3rd in MLB, while his 12 runs and 2 homers are tied for first and his 9 RBI are tied for 3rd. Russell’s 8 doubles are twice as many as the next-closest 9-spot hitter in the game.
And if all that hasn’t gotten you feeling a bit frisky, allow me to provide you with a bit of statistical Cialis. The dozen runs Russell has scored are as many as or more than all but eleven teams. One of those, as you might have figured. The only other NL team in that mix is the Marlins. Only 16 teams have more total RBI from the last spot in the order than Addison Russell has on his own and none have more doubles, though the Blue Jays are tied.
As a team, the Cubs rank near the top of the majors when it comes to bottom-of-the-order production. They are in the top 10, if not top 5, in almost every significant offensive category and that strength has come primarily from their young second baseman. As Russell continues to develop, the chorus of suggestions for him to move higher in the lineup will continue to grow. But if the team continues to win, some of that may be muffled by the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.
I can see both sides of it too. After all, you need to have your best hitters at the plate as often as possible and the lower you bat in the order, the fewer at-bats you’ll get. But there’s just something so great about getting down to bottom of the order and having Russell down there, like finding a $20 bill in that coat you haven’t worn in months or that pair of pants you haven’t been able to fit into since last year (double win!). Then again, those things are little more than good fortune; a baseball team can’t afford to get lucky.
But by putting the NL’s youngest player behind the pitcher, Joe Maddon is not trying to get lucky. Rather, he’s creating his own brand of good fortune in a spot not often associated with it. Perhaps he’s concerned that the advantage gained by moving Russell up would be mitigated by moving another hitter down, though this lineup is becoming potent enough to spread the talent around pretty evenly. So until such time as Maddon sees fit to move the kid, I’m going to continue to enjoy watching him hold down his current spot.
I know it’s only the 9-hole, but I like it.