What has Elevated Addison Russell?

Chicago Cubs: What has Elevated Addison Russell?
by Erik Mauro

What has elevated the Chicago Cubs’ Addison Russell to the clutch hitter he’s become in 2016?

Earlier this season, we here at Cubbies Crib published a piece on what has elevated Kris Bryant to the next level in 2016. Bryant has taken the step towards MVP level, and it looks like he’s got the award all but wrapped up right now. But Addison Russell has taken a step forward as well, and we look at what’s behind that.

In 2015, Russell finished with a slash line of .242/.307/.389. In 2016, his slash line is currently .241/.323/.422, still with four games to go. He has also seen an increase in home runs, going from 13 in 2015 to 21 in 2016. Believe it or not, he is also grading out better defensively this season. Not to mention, Russell is making more contact and driving the ball more, allowing for more extra base hits.

Last season, Russell struck out in 28.5% of his at bats. This year, in 2016, his K rate is down 6%, at 22.4%. The more contact a player is able to make, the better the results will be. His hard-hit rate is also up, from 27% last year, to 30% this year, so he is clearly driving the ball more.

Sticking with the theme of contact, Russell is making contact on 61% of pitches outside the strike zone, that’s up 10% from last year. On the defensive side, this guy has become a steel trap over there at shortstop, as he leads all Major League shortstops with 18 DRS, which is an increase from his 10 DRS in 2015, where he spent half the year at second base.

When Addison Russell first came to the Cubs organization, after being acquired in a trade with the Athletics for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. He had a very open stance with an extra toe tap in his swing. That swing carried over to the Big Leagues. Since then, he has worked with Cubs’ hitting coach John Mallee to shorten up, and eliminate the toe tap, as well as not having such an open stance. All of these adjustments have resulted in the current power hitting shortstop he is now.

Russell is still only 22 years old, and after nearly two full years in the big leagues, it looks like the sky can be the limit. With the tutelage of this front office and this current coaching staff, look for Russell to only get better from here. These young players possibly getting better is music to Cubs’ fans ears.