The shortstop position has become the object of nearly every fantasy owner’s affection during mock draft season. If you include Trea Turner in the math, there are 8 shortstops going in the top 31 selections according to the current NFBC ADP data. Of course, this reaction is fueled by the breakouts of young studs at the position and a perceived drop at the position following Trevor Story. In what could be the largest single positional player drop, another shortstop does not show up in the ADP data until nearly 85 picks later – Eduardo Nunez at 115.20. You have to go just a little further to find today’s topic, Addison Russell with an ADP of 133.51.
If you would have taken a poll before the start of last season regarding breakouts at the shortstop position, you likely would have found Russell’s names among the leaderboards with Trevor Story and Xander Bogaerts. However, 2016 was mostly a mixed bag for Addison Russell. He was a counting stat producer – over 151 games, Russell hit 21 homers, scored 67 runs and drove in 95. However, with the league-wide power surge, 21 homers was only good for 8th at the position. Additionally, Russell did not run much – amassing just 5 steals – and struggled in the batting average department with a .238.
However, Russell made some pretty significant process improvements, which did not produce the results that he may have deserved. Russell shrunk his K% from 28.5% to 22.6% and walked a little more 9.2% compared to 8.0%. Although not outstanding, Russell did not have the contact issues, which marred his first full season in MLB. His batting average got worse year-over-year because his BABIP shrunk from .324 in 2015 down to .277 in 2016. With a high IFFB%, there are some issues that would need to be ironed out before Russell could be projected for another .325 BABIP, but his 21.1% LD% indicates that Russell probably got a little unlucky on balls in play and his splits data support that conclusion. Russell hit .590 on line drives last year – league average is approximately .685. Simply put, Russell should have been a lot closer to a .260 hitter than a .240 hitter.
In addition to deserving better last year, we should also be mindful that Russell is entering age 23 season and it is likely that we have not seen his professional or power peak. Russell is a player that is learning at the MLB level – he has just 321 MiLB appearances at AA or AAA. For instance, in 2015, Russell really struggled with left-handed pitching despite being right-handed. These struggles can be attributed to a lack of exposure to left-handed pitchers at advanced levels. In 2016, he was much better with a .801 OPS compared to .527 in 2015. The 2016 number probably should have been higher as his BABIP against lefties was a terrible .239 despite a 23% line drive rate.
Clearly, there is a lot of room for growth from Russell – growth, which we witnessed from contemporaries at the shortstop position last year. He will also be given every opportunity to continue to develop – there is no threat to his playing time because his defense is outstanding at shortstop.
Further, there is also offensive opportunity for Russell. With Dexter Fowler departing via free agency, early speculation is that the Cubs are going to bat Schwarber leadoff to start the year. Joe Maddon is extremely unconventional and from an analytical standpoint, the idea is not bad – Schwarber gets on base at a high clip. However, Schwarber is also a potential platoon player, who suffered a catastrophic injury in the outfield last year. If Russell starts the year hot, it is not difficult to find his path to the top of the best lineup in baseball. However, even if Schwarber remains the leadoff hitter all year, then Russell could hit fifth behind Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist. In other words, Russell is going to have the opportunity to improve upon last year’s counting numbers regardless of whether it comes in the form of runs or RBI.
If you do not want to pay up for an elite, young shortstop, Russell is the perfect combination of youth, upside and cost for you!