Addison Russell has been hitting quite well lately, thankyouverymuch. Over his past 111 plate appearances (dating back to April 14th), Russell has slashed .289/.369/.402 with an excellent 11.7% walk rate and a 22.5% strikeout rate. That production equates to a 112 wRC+, which is about 12 percent better than league average.
Shorten that up to May 5th (his last 60 PAs) and Russell has been on FIRE: .320/.433/.480 (155 wRC+) with a 16.7% walk rate, five doubles, a homer, and stolen base. Yeah. Hard not to love that from your Gold Glove caliber, 24-year-old shortstop, eh?
So what’s led to his recent hot streak? Well, it could be that he’s got a tiny 9.1% soft-hit rate and a solid 36.4% hard-hit rate during that stretch. Or it could be that he’s hitting the ball in the air with some more consistency. His small 25.2% out-of-zone swing rate is probably a contributing factor and his 84.1% zone-contact rate isn’t bad either.
In fact, pretty much everything he’s done across the board – aside from a few more strikeouts (which isn’t unexpected with a little more power) – has helped add to the fire.
But there’s one thing that hasn’t made him play better, according to Russell, and that’s the concurrent trade rumors:
Addison Russell says the Manny Machado rumors have nothing to with his recent hot streak (21-for-59 with a .426 on-base percentage in last 18 games): "I really don’t pay any attention to all that stuff."
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) May 19, 2018
Russell has been at the center of a significant rumor that dates back to December, wherein the Cubs would send him to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for their 26-year-old MVP candidate (and now a fellow shortstop), Manny Machado.
We’ve written about the Machado rumors frequently here at Bleacher Nation. Even if we’re not exactly on board with the entire premise of the trade (the timing, the cost, the years of control you’re giving up), the smoke has been too thick to ignore.
Heck, it’s clearly reached Russell’s ears, even if he doesn’t pay attention:
Addison Russell: "This is a great organization. The Cubs have stuck with me whenever I went through a lot of things. I think that would be sad if I had to leave, but I’m really thankful for the Cubs, for giving me an opportunity to play."
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) May 19, 2018
More positively, Russell says it doesn’t bother him. As a former component of a high-profile trade (the one that brought him to the Cubs in the first place), he’s accustomed to the noise. And, to be fair, he claims that he only hears about it when members of the media ask him about it: “All I know is that I play for the Cubs. And I’m going to play for the Cubs as hard as I can. I like this team, I like this organization. I really don’t pay attention to all that stuff.”
Indeed, that’s exactly the perspective you want him to have. Play hard, play well, ignore everything else. Based on his comments today and previously, I think it’s easy to see Russell likes playing in Chicago.
For what it’s worth, Russell’s manager, Joe Maddon, seems to see the changes he’s making and believes he could be “arriving” (which, yes, comment-section, is very similar to “turning a corner”). “I think he’s arriving,” Maddon told ESPN. “I’ve seen his at-bats get better. He’s fouling some tough pitches off and getting to his next pitch. I just like his on-base percentage. That tells me he has his strike zone in order. He has a lot of talent at the plate.”
It’s been a weird start to a career for Russell, who’s not yet lived up to his potential at the plate, has dealt with injuries, and has been the subject of an ongoing MLB investigation. He’s simultaneously flashed defensive wizardry at shortstop and glimpses of the offensive upside, and we can’t forget about his ceiling.
Once upon a time, Russell was one of the top 3-5 prospects in all of baseball, behind only guys like Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor, and Carlos Correa. That he hasn’t quite reached that potential yet – at age 24(!) – is not crazy. At all. Kris Bryant was just 23 when he broke into the league, and is now 26. Russell just started younger – he has time.
And, hey, so far this season, he’s basically been a league-average contributor at the plate (99 wRC+), while doing much more than holding his own in the field. Just check out some of his defensive statistics and where they rank league-wide (this is *not* limited to shortstops):
Defensive Runs Saved: 6 (T-7th)
Ultimate Zone Rating: 2.9 (T-15th)
Def Rating: 4.6 (8th)
So, yes, Russell is aware of the rumors, but no, they’re not affecting the way he’s playing. And, again, if he turns into the player the Cubs think he can be, there’ll be no need to trade him or for Manny Machado anyway.