Is playing Russell at second the best move for him and the Cubs?
Comfort helps build confidence and confidence helps a player be better – not just at the plate or on the mound, but in the field defensively as well. This is where I question if the Chicago Cubs moving Addison Russell to second base when he has played so well at shortstop during his professional career.
In Russell’s 228 career minor league games, all but five games were started at shortstop. Those five games all happened just before his promotion to the Chicago Cubs. Theo Epstein has said on a number of occasions that if you can play short, you can play anywhere on the field. But what if playing him at second isn’t the best move and playing him there not only takes away your best defensive option but also takes away his ability to hit as well as he can.
It’s not unheard-of for switching positions to affect a player’s ability to hit – even the best players have had it happen to them. Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angles went into a slump when he was switched from center field to cover left field. Fox Sports Ken Rosenthal wrote a piece about Trout and his change of positions and the effects of it at the plate.
He played 25 games in left field while covering for an injury – in that time his stat line was a .252 batting/.322 on-base/.402 slugging, and two home runs. After he returned to center field in 28 games he posted a .343/.419/.713, and eight home runs.
While Rosenthal does point out the fact that a player like Trout would eventually correct those stats and a switch from batting lead-off to second also could have played a factor – you cannot deny that Trout may not have been comfortable in left like he was in center.
"“The nice thing about having impact players who are athletic and can play in the middle of the field and can hit is that you have options. You can never have too many shortstops. If you look around baseball, you see some of the best outfielders in the game came up as shortstops, some of the best third basemen in the game came up as shortstops, some of the best second basemen in the game came up as shortstops. Heck, some of the best first basemen in the game came up as shortstops.” Theo Epstein – via Carrie Muskat/mlb.com"
You also have to think about everything Russell is trying to process while making his big league debut. He has to adjust to a new position, new pitchers, new ballparks, a new life. It is a lot to try to consume in a short time. To have to work at being a better defensive player at second – it could take his focus away from his approach at the plate.
What if he commits and error at second that would be a routine play for an experienced second baseman and he is up next to lead off the inning – does he take that error with him to the plate?
The more comfortable a person feels – the better they are. That is just a common fact of life. The same hold true for baseball players. When a batter like the Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo crowds the plate, he is making it known that he is comfortable and that he is not going to back down.
When a pitcher wants to make a hitter uncomfortable, he’ll throw inside and jam the hitter. Sometimes he’ll even throw a little “chin music” to brush back a batter and intimidate the man at the plate a little to get him uncomfortable.
Russell could be the kind of player and person who will not even think about the change – he could just take it as it comes and doesn’t worry about the cause and effect of the switch. I have no doubt he is as good as advertised and I also don’t see this start at second base to be a permanent one but during the season isn’t the best time to learn a new position.