In 2016, just after joining the Cubs, Jason Heyward injured his wrist on a sliding catch, and it wound up impacting his swing in a way that he could not recover from for a year, or perhaps longer.
In 2017, Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist dealt with the sort of nagging wrist issue that essentially prevented him from contributing from one side of the plate at all, while also generally limiting his production across the board. This season, he’s hitting as well as he ever has, and his contact has never looked so good.
Earlier this season, Kris Bryant started off by hitting better than even he ever had in the big leagues, before a shoulder injury slowly chipped away at his power and eventually landed him on the DL. Twice. The jury’s still out on when he’ll return, but we can all pretty much agree that the shoulder issue is what derailed his season before the disabled list did.
Point being: sometimes, injuries happen out in the public, but the ramifications are a little more behind the scenes – at least, at first – before they contribute to a player’s drop in production. Which brings me to today’s (possible) lesson: Addison Russell.
On the surface, Russell’s 90 wRC+ isn’t particularly unusual or worrisome for him (in the present, that is), given that it’s exactly in line with his career numbers. In all honestly, this is probably what most of us have come to expect from him, at least as a baseline.
But I’m not so sure that’s accurate … especially not if he were completely healthy.
Consider that from the start of the season until July 1st (280 PAs), Russell slashed .286/.358/.407, good for a 107 wRC+. That’s about 17% better than his overall season numbers and 7% better than the league average.
Why did I cut it off on July 1st? It wasn’t arbitrary: that’s the day his left hand was stepped on in a game against the Tigers – the same hand with the middle finger he injured during a swing back on June 3rd. He left that game, missed a little time, and he hasn’t really been the same since.
Since July 1 – over a month now – Russell hasn’t just been a below average hitter, he’s been really, really, really below average hitter: .204/.264/.276. He’s hardly striking out and he’s still taking his walks, but the power (.071 ISO) has evaporated, he’s hitting a ton of grounders (54.4%), and he’s making very little hard contact (26.6%).
But the frustrating part is not just comparing his recent slump with the slightly above average production he had been posting from the start of the season until then. I mean, that still matters quite a bit, but what I’m guessing many of us didn’t realize is that Russell had been on quite a heater just before that.
In the 91 plate appearances from June 1 – July 1st, Russell slashed .333/.396/.481 (135 wRC+) with a .148 ISO, a 29.2% hard-contact rate, and a 33.8% ground ball rate. Basically, he was hitting the ball harder and in the air, resulting in more power and overall production.
For a short while, Russell wasn’t just slightly above average, he was WAY above average. But as we’ve seen, from that *exact* day onward, he’s completely fallen off the map. We do know that he had back-to-back days off near the end of July for “regular wear and tear,” but it’s becoming difficult to think there’s not something more than that, or at least lingering, going on behind the scenes.
Most players don’t want to lean on these sort of explanations for their troubles, because it can come off sounding like an excuse, and obviously all players deal with some level of dings over the course of a season. But sometimes – as we’ve seen before – “excuses” are really just unfortunate explanations, and fans appreciate having that context.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.