[Brett: Luis wrote this yesterday, before Addison Russell left the game with a groin issue that has him day-to-day. He is not in today’s starting lineup. So hopefully this does not make you sad, together with today’s other injury news.]
After a first half in which he showed flashes of brilliance and glimpses that served as reminders that he was only a 21-year-old rookie, Addison Russell has begun to come into his own in the second half.
The shortstop turned second baseman, who turned shortstop again late in July is slashing .293/.336/.474 with a .349 wOBA and 122 wRC+.
For what it’s worth, the league average slash for second basemen in the second half is .273/.323/.413 with a .320 wOBA and 103 wRC+, while shortstops have slashed .262/.312/.388 with a .305 wOBA and 93 wRC+ since the All-Star Break.
Since becoming the team’s full-time shortstop, Russell has slashed .333/.365/.604 with a .970 OPS since August 7.
All this despite being stuck in the ninth spot in the order.
Over at Baseball Prospectus, Matthew Trueblood notes that 93 percent of Russell’s plate appearances have come in the ninth spot. That kind of dedication to a batter in that spot is unheard of, even in the American League as Trueblood notes that 54 percent of Jose Iglesias’ plate appearances out of the ninth spot in the order is the second highest behind Russell’s. That is a significant drop off in percentage.
The average MLB No. 9 hitter is slashing .202/.251/.291 with a .542 OPS.
One of the most fascinating notes in this piece is Russell’s splits when seeing a starter the third time in a game (.167/.231/.333 in 26 PA) and against relievers (.158/.226/.274 in 160 PA). It is a striking difference compared to what Russell does in his first (.312/.350/.473 in 100 PA) and second times (.329/.400/.435 in 95 PA) seeing a starter. In theory, the third time a player sees a starter should be the best (though the sample here is minuscule). In any case, batting 9th probably makes things a little trickier for Russell, given that he’s more likely to see a reliever before his third plate appearance than anyone else in the lineup.
Still, Russell’s second half offense, plus his steady defense at both middle positions, really make him stand out since the break. One of the best signs Russell has shown has been improved plate discipline. While he isn’t walking all that much (7.4 percent walk rate), he has seen a decline in strikeout rate. Russell whiffed in 31.1 percent of his first half at bats, but has been able to cut that in a big way as he has made post-break adjustments. His strikeout rate in the second half is only 18.3 percent, all while still seeing 3.85 pitches per plate appearance in the second half, which would rank around the league median number among qualifiers over a full season.
Russell is far from a finished product, but he remains a key part of an evolving offense.