Addison Russell was PECOTA’s most likely player to outperform his projection going into the 2017 season. This is because the smooth-fielding shortstop grew into his 60/80 raw power projection last year by launching 21 homers in 598 plate appearances, all while steadily improving his contact rate as the season progressed. Russell’s ability to adjust quickly led many, myself included, to believe he could tap into his optimal value as soon as this year. Unfortunately, the opposite has occurred, and we’re entering late June with more question marks than positive comments.
However, Russell showed signs of a rebound this past week. He finally hit pitches that have been troubling him and, qualitatively, looks more confident at the dish. Over last week’s six games, Russell smacked three homers, made 96 percent contact against pitches inside the zone, and recorded seven hits in 22 plate appearances. Alongside results, the 23-year-old’s exit velocity is slowly beginning to reflect that of his best games, as seen below on the far right of the graph.
During last week’s games, Russell’s batted balls were some of the hardest he has hit all year. His double against the Pirates in that late comeback was hit over 105 MPH, his hardest since May 9. He followed that up the next game with a grounder up the middle north of 107 MPH. And then, later in the game, he took Ivan Nova deep to the left field bleachers. This homer was the most encouraging sign of all because Russell countered a pitch that has been punishing him all year.
Nova chucked a 92.1 MPH fourseamer up and in on Russell’s wrists.
Too many times have scouts put pen to paper when Russell faces high, inside fastballs, as he’s producing the least amount of runs in the exact zone Nova threw, as illustrated by the below fastball heat map.
This time, however, Russell made scouts jot down a different note after they saw the shortstop barrel the pitch deep into the Pittsburgh night. And oh how beautiful it was.
I certainly can’t extrapolate too much out of a one-week sample, I know. But we’ve seen so many funky hacks from Russell over the last several weeks that seeing them replaced by home run swings is very encouraging. The fact that he’s making frequent, strong contact and catching up to inside heaters suggests he is seeing the ball better, feeling more confident, and/or recovering from a nagging shoulder injury from May.
Whatever the reason, Addison Russell is finally trending in the right direction.