Chicago Cubs’ all-star shortstop Addison Russell declared Wednesday his back is 100 percent ready for Opening Day.
Russell missed time late in spring training because of back tightness. The Cubs are hopeful he will be in the lineup for the remaining exhibition games on Thursday and Friday ahead of the season opener on Sunday night against the St. Louis Cardinals
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The news comes as a sigh of relief for some Cubs fans, though the team wasn’t in jeopardy of losing anything offensively or defensively with Javier Baez still searching for an everyday role. However, 22 is not a very attractive age to start having back problems, especially for a player who has his intangibles.
No eating at the table…
Russell is causing a lot of good problems in the Cubs organization. He’s one of the youngest players in the organization, and one of the most talented on both sides of the ball. Cubs fans saw the repercussions of those problems last year when the team traded their top prospect, Gleyber Torres, to the New York Yankees in the deal which brought Aroldis Chapman to Chicago.
Many Cubs fans lamented giving away Torres, suspecting Theo was getting ready to sell the farm for a single championship. In reality, Torres is only one or two seasons (at most) away from being big-league ready, That would make Addison Russell 24 at the time of Torres’ call-up. With Baez already obstructing playing time for players like Tommy La Stella and Ian Happ‘s spring successes, it seems unlikely that Torres would have gotten much playing time in Chicago.
Russell simply brings too much to the table to warrant replacement when he’s healthy.
Since coming into the league in 2015, Russell has played in 293 of 324 regular season games. In his rookie year, he batted primarily out of the nine-slot which gave Russell a chance to see more aggressive pitching. Because he was hitting behind the pitcher and in front of the top of the order, Russell saw fastballs 56% of the time he batted. He slashed .241/.389/.696 that year, with 13 home runs and 54 RBIs, but did most of his damage against curveballs, which he hit 1.5 runs above average in 2015. Russel struggled mightily against fastballs, hitting nearly six runs below average against the pitch.
After his first full season, Russell dramatically improved both his bat and glove skills. In 2016, he improved his fastball hitting by almost four runs above average while increased his effectiveness against changeups and sliders. Last season, Russell hit changeups 3.5 runs above average, up nearly four full runs since 2015.
Have glove, will pick it
Defensively, there is no questioning Russell’s importance. Russell was tied with San Francisco’s Brandon Crawford for the highest dWAR by a shortstop in 2016 with a 2.7. In comparison to Baez, Russell’s dWAR is 0.7 points higher. This means that, on average, Russell contributed 70% more to wins last year than Baez, even though Baez played in nine fewer games.
Russell has spent the past two seasons in the top-10 for WAR as well. Last season he recorded a 4.3 WAR while Baez recorded a 3.4.
Like many other Cubs, Russell experienced his first Opening Day at a very young age. As of now, the Cubs have no plans of placing Russell on the DL ahead of Sunday. However, those tides may turn if all doesn’t go well over the next couple of days.