Feelings about what Addison Russell’s second season will look like can be found at the intersection of fan optimism and projection-based conservatism.
Russell put together a quality rookie season for the 2015 Cubs. He slashed .242/.307/.389 in 142 games with a 90 wRC+ and a 2.9 fWAR that ranked eighth among rookies. Russell, who is entering his age 22 season, still has plenty of upside, untapped potential and room to grow – especially as an offensive force at shortstop.
This is where the difference between the optimism that develops in fans during an offseason and what computer-based projections forecast for the coming year.
Fans have showed quite an optimistic outlook for Russell’s 2016, putting a 5.2 WAR number* (per 600 PA) on Russell — or 2.7 WAR higher than the 2.5 Steamer/600 has placed on him for the upcoming season.
To give this some context, fans think Russell will be 1-WAR better than what Steamer600 projects for Astros shortstop and American League Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa, who is projected by the site to be baseball’s best shortstop in 2016 (and is a tremendous blizzard baseball player, too).
The 2.7-WAR difference for Russell’s projection is tied for the second widest gap between fans and Steamer. The only bigger difference is the fans’ 3.2-WAR projection for Mike Mahtook and the 0.4 projection by Steamer.
While fans seem overly optimistic, consider Russell’s age and the improvements he made offensively as his rookie season progressed. Russell made adjustments after the All-Star Break, and those really stuck with the young shortstop, who finished strong in 2015. After he moved full-time to shortstop on August 7, Russell slashed .256/.319/.445 with a 105 wRC+. Prior to the move, Russell had a .235/.300/.360 slash and an 82 wRC+.
*[Brett: Holy smokes that’s high. I’m a big believer in the value of Russell’s glove, and I think there’s a ton of upside in the bat, but expecting a 5+ WAR season at age 22 is a pretty tall task, especially if Russell is going to keep hitting at the bottom of the order and facing more match-up relievers than anyone else in the lineup. If Russell tops 3.0 WAR this year, I’ll be plenty happy. I do think he can reach the 4 to 5 WAR level, but I wouldn’t project it or expect it.]