When Addison Russell was selected as the starting shortstop for the 2016 MLB All-Star game, there was a bit of (predictable) backlash.
At the time, Russell was slashing just .237/.329/.402 (94 wRC+) with a 24.6% strikeout rate, while Corey Seager was doing terrible things to baseballs in L.A.
Since then, however, Russell has dialed things up quite a bit, hitting .264/.332/.483 (114 wRC+) in the second half, including a monster month of August that featured seven home runs and a .511 slugging percentage. And he hasn’t slowed down since.
In last night’s win over the Houston Astros, Russell went 3-4 with yet another long ball – his 20th – and two more RBI – his 89th and 90th – on the season. Relive his milestone passing performance right here:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 12, 2016
As the Cubs Twitter account correctly pointed out, Russell’s 90 RBI are now tied for the MLB lead among shortstops with Manny Machado and Carlos Correa. Obviously, RBI is not the greatest, most predictive statistic, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be impressed by the number. In addition, Russell has the seventh most home runs by a shortstop in all of baseball (3rd in the NL) this year, and the sixth highest WAR (3rd most in the NL).
But his success can be measured by something greater than just the 2016 season:
As Len Kasper pointed out on Twitter, Russell has become just the fifth Cubs’ shortstop to hit 20 or more home runs in a single season, tying Alex Gonzalez (who hit 20 in 2003). Ernie Banks holds the top seven spots for home runs in a Cubs season by a shortstop, but there are only three other guys to ever accomplish the feat.
But his home run total isn’t just impressive, because of the position he plays. According to Chris Kamka on Twitter, Russell is the second youngest player (of any position) in Cubs history to reach 20 home runs in a single season – sandwiched between Ron Santo and Billy Williams. If you can be, in any way at all, associated with Ron Santo, Billy Williams, and Ernie Banks in just your second season of professional baseball, you’ve done quite well for yourself.
For the season, Russell is slashing .247/.330/.433 (101 wRC+), with 20 homers, a 9.5% walk rate and a 23.1% strikeout rate. He’s seen stark improvements in just about every single relevant offensive statistic here in 2016, including a 1.5% point increase in his walk rate and a 5.4% point decrease in his strikeout rate. His ISO for the season (.186) is well above what he put up in 2015 (.147) and it has been downright scary in the second half (.219).
Given the knowledge that most players grow into their power as they age, Russell’s 20 homers at age 22 is all the more impressive (when Kris Bryant was 22 years old, he was hitting homers at Double and Triple-A).
With his already stellar defense and obviously improving offense, Addison Russell has been worth 4.2 WAR on the season. That’s third most on the Cubs, behind two MVP candidates in Anthony Rizzo (4.7 WAR) and Kris Bryant (7.8 WAR). Addison Russell is very good at baseball, and he’s developing into bonafide star right before our eyes. Continue to expect big things from this young shortstop, because he’s as talented as they come.