As Chairman of the Addison Russell Fan Club™, it is my duty to remain objective about his performance at all times. So I’m writing to announce that Russell is 1) looking extraordinarily strong lately, but 2) his overall numbers this season suggest the baseball gods granted him good luck.
Every time I refresh his FanGraphs page, I can’t help but smile at the .329 wOBA, 106 wRC+, and 1.9 fWAR. Gosh, it’s only June 20 and Russell has accumulated more value than an average everyday fielder. But many of his weak batted balls have fallen for base hits, which has perhaps inflated that value a bit.
When we look at computer models that take into account exit velocity, batted-ball location, launch angle, weather, and many more variables, Russell’s “expected” run production is much lower than his overall .329 wOBA. For example, both Statcast and xStats version of expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA and xOBA, respectively) think Russell only deserves a ~.280 wOBA, which would qualify as one of the worst in MLB.
It’s sort of crazy to actually look at the expected hit totals. Truth is, 11 of Russell’s 57 hits this season (numbers not updated after Tuesday’s games against the World Series losing Los Angeles Dodgers) probably should’ve been outs. Even three of his doubles were calculated as, for lack of a better term, lucky. Sigh.
Except, I really do think Russell has looked better lately. He appears to be so much more fluid, relaxed, and powerful since coming off the DL a few weeks ago. The numbers actually support my biased eyes, too. His last 25 plate appearances were calculated to be worth a .345 xwOBA( vs. actual.397 wOBA; small sample size alert).
Russell’s recent bout of success might’ve been a result of a subtle change to his batting mechanics. It’s so subtle that I’m going to blow up an image below to point it out. Let’s compare Russell on May 6 in St. Louis to his homer on June 16 in the same park. Pay attention to his lower half, particularly the width of his stance and the flexion in his legs.
May 6, 2018
June 16, 2018
May 6 (left) vs. June 16 (right)
You see how his front leg is wider now than it was there in early May? And can you also see how he’s in more of an athletic, slightly squatted position? Keep in mind that this isn’t because of a camera angle difference at Busch. It’s just one example, but watch him hit now and you’ll see that the change is actually legitimate.
Two things are true. One, Russell probably hasn’t hit well enough to deserve his .329 wOBA. Two, he made a recent change to his mechanics and he looks stronger, probably because of said changes. And because of those truths, I think there’s reason to believe that Russell’s best offensive performance is yet to come. If he does continue to hit this well, he’ll blow by 4 fWAR this season. Heck, maybe even 5 WAR.
Say it with me: Addison Russell could be a 5 WAR shortstop right now.