addison russell batting cubs

Just yesterday, we took our first look into the Position Power Ranking series taking place right now at Fangraphs.

If you recall, Fangraphs is previewing the season by reviewing the Fangraphs Depth Charts (a blend of the ZiPS and Steamer projections) with expected playing time to create individual positional power rankings based on expected 2016 fWAR.

Last time we checked in, the Cubs first base unit (led by Anthony Rizzo) was projected to be the second best first base unit in all of baseball, just behind Paul Goldschmidt and the Arizona Diamondbacks.



Similarly, the Ben Zobrist-led second base unit was ranked fourth best in baseball, while the Cubs catching unit led – the Cubs’ consensus weakest-spot – led by Miguel Montero was still above average, finishing fourteenth overall by fWAR.

The left side of the infield’s positional power rankings have been released (this time, via Craig Edwards) in the form of shortstop and third base. As you can imagine, the Cubs were once again well represented, with an eighth place finish for Cubs shortstops and a third place finish for Cubs third basemen.

Let’s see what’s what with each.

Starting with shortstop, let’s take a look at the Addison Russell led positional unit. According to the Depth Charts, Addison Russell is expected to slash .249/.307/.404, while playing Gold Glove caliber defense up the middle. Overall, he’s projected to earn 2.7 WAR from the position next year, while Javier Baez is expected to add another half a win, as his backup (solely from that position – which is actually quite a lot).

But with a collective 3.1 projected WAR, an eighth place finish might come as some surprise… until you remember how loaded the shortstop position will be this season. Ahead of Russell, you’ll find big name (and equally young) shortstops like Carlos Correa (4.8), Francisco Lindor (3.7), Troy Tulowitzki (3.5), Andrelton Simmons (3.6), Xander Bogaerts (3.2), Corey Seager (2.9) and Brandon Crawford (3.0). While there may have been a void of shortstops over the past half-decade, MLB is loaded with young shortstops now, maybe more than ever.



According to Edwards, Russell and Baez can take a major leap forward, if only they can reduce their strikeout rates over 2015. For what it’s worth, in 2015, Russell struck out 28.5% overall. But, when you break it down into a first half strikeout rate (31.1%) and a second half strikeout rate (25.8%) you’ll see he’s already made huge strides in that department. Furthermore, he’s projected to reduce his overall strikeout rate down to 24.5% by the very Depth Charts that led to this ranking. Russell, I suspect, will be just fine in 2016.

Moving onto third base, we find the Kris Bryant-led third base unit very well represented. According to the Depth Charts, Kris Bryant is expected to slash .268/.361/.496 in over 600 plate appearances from the hot corner. Overall, he’s projected to earn 5.3 WAR, while Javier Baez once again figures to add another 0.2 WAR, backing him up. In sum, the Cubs third basemen in 2016 are projected to add roughly 5.5 WAR to the teams total.

With that collective 5.5 WAR, Kris Bryant finds himself in very, very good company. The only two players ahead of him on the list are last year’s American League MVP Josh Donaldson and probably his biggest competition for the award next season in Manny Machado. Between the two of them, the two AL third basemen are projected to combine for over 12 WAR in 2016 – that’s not easy to beat. Behind the Cubs, you’ll find the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado (4.3) and the Rangers’ Adrian Beltre (3.7). You can’t really argue that Bryant can or should be any higher than he is, so this is quite the compliment.

According to Edwards, Bryant is clearly among the top positional players in the game, but is just outside that truly elite tier of players, thanks to a lot of strikeouts and some expected batted ball regression. Still, Edwards concedes that Bryant is the type of player capable of taking yet another step forward, and there’s no reason to think he’s somehow already peaked. With a few tweaks to his game, Bryant could soon join the upper echelon of MVP candidate players. I wouldn’t bet against him.



So, if you’re keeping score at home, here’s the updated rankings all in one place:

  • Catcher – Miguel Montero – 14th
  • First Base – Anthony Rizzo – 2nd
  • Second Base – Ben Zobrist – 4th
  • Shortstop – Addison Russell – 8th
  • Third Base – Kris Bryant – 3rd
  • Blog Writer – Michael Cerami – 26th

Okay, I may have snuck the last one in there, but the rest are where we find ourselves as of now. We’ll continue to discuss the other rankings over the next week, but in the mean time, I encourage you to read the articles. There are far more notes and ideas to glean from poring over the rankings, yourself.

So far, the Cubs are represented right where they should be.

 


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