Last night, my softball team was slaughtered in our second game of the year. Essentially, we were down by the wrong amount of runs after the right amount of innings. Shrug. It happens.
Of course, Major League Baseball has no such slaughter rule, so the Chicago Cubs were able to keep piling runs onto the Miami Marlins last night, inning after inning. By the time the dust had settled, the Cubs rattled the Marlins for 16 hits and 11 runs.
Although nearly everyone contributed in one way or another to the offensive barrage, exactly half of those 16 hits can be credited to just two players: Ian Happ and Addison Russell.
Ian Happ: 4-5, 2B, 2RBI
Addison Russell: 4-5, 2 2Bs, HR, 2 RBI
Together, the Cubs youngsters set a team record as the first two teammates 23 years or younger to record 4+ hits in the same game since at least 1913.
Now, let’s do what we do and dig into each hitter’s night and see where it got them. Starting with Mr. Happ.
One of the best parts of Happ’s night was that two of his four hits came from the right side of the plate. Right when he was called up, he had mentioned that he was more comfortable as a lefty-facing-a-righty than the alternative, and the numbers bore that out. But after a few great days from the right side of the plate, his splits are narrowing:
Happ Versus LHP: 130 wRC+
Happ Versus RHP: 132 wRC+
These are still relatively small samples, of course, but Happ now has a higher batting average and slugging percentage as a right-handed hitter facing lefties. That’s huge, because we already know what he can do from the left side of the plate (#HappHitsHomers).
Separately, although Happ hit the ball on the ground a lot last night, he was still smoking the ball. Check out the exit velocities on each of his four hits:
- Single: 92.1 MPH
- Single: 111.9 MPH
- Single: 102.0 MPH
- Double: 91.5 MPH
That’s an average exit velocity of 99.4 MPH for the night, which is brilliant. For reference, Aaron Judge leads all of MLB with an overall average exit velocity of 96.1 MPH (obviously that’s over many more plate appearances, but you get the idea). And, finally, check out what his big night did to his slash line:
Before: .221/.313/.566 (121 wRC+)
After: .246/.331/.585 (132 wRC+)
If Happ had enough plate appearances to qualify, his 132 wRC+ would rank 18th best in the National League – a few spots behind Kris Bryant (139 wRC+) and Anthony Rizzo (137 wRC+). Now that’s a night at the plate.
And yet … it was outdone by his teammate, Addison Russell.
Yesterday, Russell had one of the best nights at the plate of his entire career. By the end of the night, he was just a triple short of the cycle, but doubled up on doubles to make up for it. Russell didn’t smoke the ball quite as much as Happ (86.7 average exit velocity overall), but he was hitting it with authority and to all the right places.
More specifically, he hit a line drive single over the shortstop’s head to kick things off, a hard line drive double down the left field line, a homer way out to left field (102.6 MPH, 416 feet), and a ground ball double down the first base line. That’s just a fantastic piece of hitting all around.
Check out what his big night did to his slash line:
Before: .221/.294/.380 (74 wRC+)
After: .234/.304/.413 (85 wRC+)
Obviously, the season numbers aren’t quite there yet, but last night was a HUGE step in the right direction. And, perhaps more importantly, he’s been turning it on like crazy lately.
Since June 10, his first game back after taking some time away from the team, Russell has been absolutely on fire: .361/.378/.806 with four 2Bs and four HRs.
But to be sure, he’s actually been “better” for a while now. If you go back all the way back to May 12 (exactly 100 plate appearances ago), Russell is still an above average hitter (107 wRC+) by seven percent. His ice cold first 140 plate appearances of the season (69 wRC+), it seems, have really dragged his overall numbers down.
But again, those last 100 plate appearances have really been something special. Check out his batted ball data for his career, versus the numbers he’s put up since May 12:
Last 100 PA: 12.5% (-8.3% points)
Last 100 PA: 53.1% (+1.6% points)
Last 100 PA: 34.4% (+6.2% points)
He’s cut down on his soft contact by 8.3 percentage points, and gave a majority of the gains to his hard contact (up 6.2% points). If you improve upon your underlying batted ball rates this much, the results will eventually catch up to you. And for Russell, they have.
Last night was a great night for two of the Cubs’ most promising young hitters. Plus, with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo leading the way, Kyle Schwarber getting right in Iowa, Willson Contreras tearing the cover off the ball (but that’s another story), the Cubs offense looks ready to get back on track.
And at just the right time.