Baseball

We Know Your Nature – 2019 Cubs Player Reviews: Barf Bag

It’s the counter to “Fleabag,” clearly.

Most of the time, I enjoy doing these, just because I like digging around on FanGraphs or BrooksBaseball to find nuggets to explain things away. Or maybe because I just enjoy writing and talking about baseball that much. Today is not that day. We’re in this together, people. Strength in numbers. Here’s Addison Russell’s 2019, hopefully his last on the Northside.

2019 Stats

82 games, 241 PAs

.237/.308/.391

8.3 BB%  24.1 K%

9 HR  23 RBI

.297 wOBA . 81 wRC+  .699 OPS

3.3 Defensive Runs Saved  0.5 WAR

Tell Me A Story: Oh good god. Here’s the thing about Addison Russell: On the field (we’ll get to the whole story in a minute), it feels like a lot of people, including in the Cubs’ front office, had this impression that Russell has ever been a productive offensive player. He hasn’t. If you can avoid being blinded by the 98 RBI in 2016, which is a product of opportunity as much as skill if not more, he’s never had a wRC+ of 100 or a wOBA of over .320. When he put up the 95 wRC+ in 2016, it was justified in thinking that would eventually be a launch-point. Something he built off of. Well, he didn’t. That now looks like his ceiling, and one he’ll need a hell of a fucking stepladder to touch again.

Russell’s power (at least to hit baseballs hard) went away in 2018 and it didn’t come back this year in the least. Unless slugging percentages that almost don’t reach the .300s are your thing, and it would be if this were 1912. Russell is never going to hit for a high enough average to not hit for power and be effective, and he’s not fast enough to beat out infield hits or take extra bases either. More worryingly, Russell’s contact-type numbers are an exhibition of piss-poor-edness, even in this year of the SuperBall. Whether you go by hard-contact percentage (31%) or average exit velocity (86.3 MPH), it’s clear that Russell doesn’t do much other than breathe on the ball and passively send it on its way.

Oh, and most of that contact is on the ground. It’s a fiesta of suckitude.

A continuing theme with the Cubs hitters is that a good portion of them could be beat by fastballs not just above the zone, but high in the zone that they couldn’t just take. Russell was no different:

And it’s not like he could not swing at them either. In trying to catch up to them, Russell was also mucho susceptible to sliders, which he had a 41% whiff-per-swing rate on. You could get him out either way, whatever your mood that day.

There was a time when it looked like Russell might develop a more patient approach at the plate, with a 9% walk-rate in ’16 that could have grown. It didn’t, and he’s been below that in the three seasons since. Considering the lack of pop, Russell probably needs a walk-rate over 10% to even get a GPS to an effective hitter, and there’s no sign that’s going to happen.

When watching Russell, you get the impression his bat-speed just isn’t going to catch up to what MLB pitchers are throwing, and he can only feast on mistakes in the inner part of the zone. Russell just doesn’t have the power to go up the middle or the opposite field and be effective that way, nor really the patience to try.

Other than all that, he’s a fine hitter.

While it’s easy to remember all the errors, some egregious, over the half-season he played Russell’s defense actually grades out fine. And that will probably continue, and hey it might even get better were he to grow a brain at any point in his adult life.

Of course, the most galling thing about Russell is the lack of attention to anything on or off the field, as well as being a genuine scumbag. Russell seemingly hasn’t taken any responsibility for anything that he’s done, at least before Cubs media relations have to clean up his mess of the mouth and send him back out there with prepared statements.

It’s the far lesser crime, but that has leaked onto the field too. Russell’s lack of attention is the main thing holding him from being even a contributor, and he doesn’t seem to have any actual instincts for the game. At every other level his athleticism would get him through that, but not here. And moreover, he doesn’t seem to want to learn. I’m sure the signs on a Major League team are a tad more complicated than the ones we used in high school. But I also doubt the process of learning them is too much more than the three-minute talk we got minutes before the first game of the season. Yet Russell unfathomably told everyone he didn’t know them. After five seasons under the same manager. It’s a desolate and arid place, the space between his ears.

Contract: Arbitration eligible, MLBTR projects $5.1M for 2020

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: The hardest of boots in the fleshiest part of his ass. Even if Russell weren’t a complete dolt and ghoul, it would appear a spot for him has disappeared. Starting shortstop is taken, and the Cubs are probably pretty determined to give second to Nico Hoerner before the All-Star break next year at the latest. Even at just that, $5M for this headache to be merely a fifth infielder is hardly worth it, and he would still have to provide offense he hasn’t looked close to producing in two seasons. Happ might not have his glove but the bat still has far more potential, and Bote can at least provide competency in both departments until it’s Hoerner’s show.

Now, I’ve been of the opinion that if the Cubs were truly sincere in their claims to want to guide Russell out of his dungeon of evil and stupidity into an actual addition to society, they can’t actually get rid of him. But the cover for them is to say they think he’s progressed enough as a person that he can be judged as any player would on the field, which would be enough justification to deposit him in whatever unfortunate dumpster that deserved better is nearby. Or they could claim he’s regressed in all areas. The bottom line is that his play on the field simply isn’t of a Major League level and it’s time for everyone to move on.

Russell will also be 26 come spring training, so one might conclude there just isn’t that much more room for improvement and this is probably what he is. We have basically four seasons of sample now. What do you see? Nothing that’s worth all this, both personally and professionally. Just a massive, massive failure.

 

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