Normally I would get major wood for a 22 year SS who hit 13 HR in his age 21 season. I’d be the first one lining up to overdraft the future superstar. However, every time I look into Addison Russell’s numbers, they just jump out as a guy who isn’t quite ready for the big time. I think there is a decent chance that I come to regret everything I’m about to write but screw it: I think Addison Russell is overrated for 2016. Someday he will be an excellent fantasy asset but without major improvements 2016 is not that year.
Plate discipline is where I start with Russell. He drew walks 8% of the time last year and given his minor league numbers and scouting report that seems pretty legitimate. However his 28.5% K rate also seems legitimate. Russell might make adjustments that drop his K rate some, but he could also continue to struggle against MLB pitching. His swinging strike rate last year of 13.7% is quite a bit higher than the league average of around 9.5%. He wasn’t just up there swinging at garbage either as his outside the zone swing percentage was 31.4% (with 30% being league average). His contact rate wasn’t all that great at 71.4%. Russell didn’t hack; he just couldn’t get the bat on the ball all that well. When Russell did make contact he didn’t make very hard contact with a hard hit rate of only 27.1%. If we combine that with his 18.2% line drive rate, the .324 BABIP seems a little generous . The old Fangraphs xBABIP calculator (which calculates an expected BABIP based on batted ball regressions) gives Russell an xBABIP of .297. I think his .242 AVG was lucky last year given his underlying stats. If he doesn’t make adjustments we could see an AVG in the .230s or even .220s.
I will say that Russell improved as the year went on, posting wRC+ numbers of 99 and 95 to close out the year. Impressive for a 21 year old.
What bothers me is the spike in K rate during those months. No one will complain if Russell clubs 30 HR and Ks 28% of the time, but Russell just doesn’t have that kind of power yet. If he has to sell out to hit bombs (7 of his 13 HRs came in Aug, Sep & Oct) it could keep his average well below the .250 mark.
How much power does Addison Russell truly have? Russell hits in a great ballpark but there are some signs that he was lucky in the HR department last year. His average fly ball distance was 280.13 ft which was good for 150th in MLB last year. Baseballheatmaps has a great xHR stat (expected home runs). They had Russell down for 10.67 HRs in 2015 which is lower than the 13 he hit. ESPN’s home run tracker gave Russel two lucky home runs and two more that were classified as just enough. Russell was probably closer to a 9-10 HR guy in 2015.
One other major concern I have with Russell is that he only truly showed power to the pull side.
Overall, this wouldn’t be a major concern and there is nothing wrong with a guy pulling home runs. However, Russell hit all but one of his 13 homeruns on pitches either in the middle of the zone or on the inner half.
If we expand it out to slugging percentage, Russell was much better on inner half pitchers than outer half.
Unsurprisingly, Russell hit a lot of outer half pitches on the ground.
He also swung and missed at pitches on the outer half more than on the inner half and pitchers clearly knew this as he faced 1.77 times more pitches in the outer two vertical columns than the inner two.
What do these pretty red and blue charts mean? They mean that last year Russell had a hole in his game: he struggled on pitches on the outer half. Given his age and pedigree, he should be able to adjust but pitchers will definitely have a game plan against him and that will be to pound the outside edge of the strike zone. If Russell cannot find a way to take these pitches the other way with some power, he might never truly get over the hump.
We are nearing the end of my Addison Russell #hate. The last thing I want to mention is his spot in the batting order: the dreaded 8th spot on an NL team. The nearly guaranteed out behind him in the order will certainly affect some of his chances. Pitchers are less likely to be aggressive with him and he will be intentionally walked in certain situations. In 2015, the 8th batter in lineups had 3.87 PA per game compared to 4.5 in the 2nd spot. Plain and simple, batting 8th will limit Russell’s opportunities. If Maddon gets creative and bats the pitcher 8th, it changes the situation quite a bit, but until that point Russell’s contextual stats will take a hit.
I promise I still like Addison Russell as a player (in particular a real life one) but he has some holes in his game that need correcting before I’m willing to jump in. I expect him to continue to have growing pains as a 22 year old and I think 20 HRs is a pipe dream for 2016. ZiPS and Steamer forecast 14 HR from Russell and PECOTA is forecasting 16. I think we’re in for something closer to 10 than 15. If we combine that with a sub .250 average and potentially poor contextual stats, we don’t have a great fantasy asset. I’m big into ZScores and my ZScore calculator puts Russell as the 162nd best offensive player for 2016 in a standard 5×5. According to NFBC, he’s going as the 132nd overall player in drafts. I’m a numbers guy and the numbers say 132nd is extremely optimistic. I might regret this entire analysis in six months, but I just don’t see it for Russell in 2016. In 2017 and 2018, I might be all over Russell but for now I will let someone else dream big while I grab a much safer option.
Credit for charts and images goes to Fangraphs, Brooksbaseball, and ESPN’s HR Tracker.