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Chicago Cubs: Could Addison Russell be a future leadoff hitter?

Apr 4, 2017; St. Louis, MO, USA; Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell (27) is congratulated by manager Joe Maddon (70) after scoring on a one single by right fielder Jason Heyward (not pictured) during the fourth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 4, 2017; St. Louis, MO, USA; Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell (27) is congratulated by manager Joe Maddon (70) after scoring on a one single by right fielder Jason Heyward (not pictured) during the fourth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Chicago Cubs enjoy positional depth up and down the lineup card. Could there be a better alternative than Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot?

When looking at this question, Addison Russell is one name that immediately pops into the head.

The young shortstop has really started to come into his own and mature over the last two seasons with the Cubs.  In his rookie season, Russell posted a .242/.307/.389 slash line.  Those are rookie numbers, sure, Russell was always more heralded for his glove.  In 2016, Russell posted a .238/.321/.417 slash line, an improvement from his rookie year.  In 2015, Russell hit 13 homers and drove in 54 runs. Last season, though, Russell hit 21 long-balls and drove in 95.  But, here are the most important numbers:

  • 2015: 42 BB/149 K
  • 2016: 55 BB/135 K

His discipline and vision are improving, and that’s a huge hurdle for young players.  Russell has been able to modify his approach and become a better, more disciplined hitter.  His rookie year, he had an 8.0 BB%, and a 28.5 K%.  In 2016, Russell had a 9.2 BB%, and a 22.6 K%.  He cut down on his strikeouts a bit, and turned those into contact.  Of course, contact is a key part of being a lead-off hitter.

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Speaking of contact, Russell’s contact rates were okay for a player with his background.  His rookie year, his contact rate was 71.1%.  Last season, he was able to up that just a little bit, to 73.7%.  Comparing those two contact rates, to other leadoff hitters……

  • Dexter Fowler: 2015 – 80.2%, 2016 – 79.4%, 78.5% career mark.
  • Denard Span: 2015 – 90.3%, 2016 – 87.5%, 90.7% career mark.
  • Dee Gordon: 2015 – 87.9%, 2016 – 85.3%, 86.9% career mark.

Based on these numbers, Russell doesn’t make near enough contact for what a lead-off hitter should.  He, however, does have the second-highest walk rate of those three players, with Fowler being the best.  Plus, Russell just fits too well in the fifth spot in the order right now.  He follows the big boppers in the lineup, and adds some pop himself, along with a pesky, maturing offensive game.

Next: Heyward off to hot start

Batting Kyle Schwarber in the lead-off spot has been beneficial so far for the Cubs.  Schwarber has looked the part, seeing lots of pitches, and drawing walks.

But Joe Maddon is unconventional, and he may want to mix and match the lineup a few games this year.  Should he do that, Addison Russell may not be too bad of an option to experiment with up at the top.

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