Chicago Cubs: Team is better with Addison Russell at shortstop

MILWAUKEE, WI - JULY 28: Addison Russell
MILWAUKEE, WI - JULY 28: Addison Russell /

Through the thick and thin of the 2017 season, a healthy Addison Russell at shortstop is the best thing for the Chicago Cubs’ defense.

With Addison Russell back in the starting lineup for the Chicago Cubs, the team has its best infield defense on the field at the most crucial time.

As Russell missed time during the season, Javier Baez held down the fort at shortstop, defensively and especially offensively, prompting many to suggest Baez should stay at short when Russell returned.

It is important to remember that unlike Baez, Russell has not played any other position since 2015. Upon cracking the majors for the first time that season with Chicago, he played second base before supplanting Starlin Castro at shortstop later that season.

A tough go

Others may be quick to note Russell’s defensive struggles at times this season. He has 12 errors through 93 games. By contrast, he had 14 errors in 148 games last season.

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Throughout the season Russell has dealt with hindrances to his shoulder and most recently his foot. In May, Joe Maddon said it was his technique that was causing issues with throws.

Concerning both shortstops recently Theo Epstein said:

"“It’s pretty well established … we’re a good defensive unit when Addy’s at short and Javy’s at second.I don’t think you can go wrong with how you throw those guys out there. But that’s how we’ve been and that’s probably how we’ll be for the rest of this season.”"

1A and 1B

Russell and Baez are 1A and 1B in terms of Chicago Cubs’ shortstops.

Yet no one on the team plays shortstop to the level of Russell.

Though he has not logged enough innings to qualify among ML shortstops (752 innings), Russell has 14 DRS and 4.0 UZR this season. Noting small sample sizes, we know based on last season, Russell’s first full year at shortstop, just how good he can be.

Russell is just a season removed from co-leading big-league shortstops in DRS with Brandon Crawford, who just beat out Russell for the Gold Glove. In 2016, Russell had 19 DRS and a UZR of 15.4, and in 471 innings during 2015, he still had 10 DRS.

Baez has one DRS in 564.1 innings and a -0.8 UZR at SS this season.

Looks can be deceiving

The eye test with Baez doesn’t lie.

Quick snapping wrists have boosted Javy’s defensive flair, embodying the El Mago nickname. It is this dynamic flair which makes Baez so exciting in the field as he applies so many impossible looking tag outs.

A healthy Russell puts Baez at second, and as anyone will tell you, Baez is arguably the teams’ best second baseman, noting Ian Happ is a rookie, and Ben Zobrist has also dealt with ailments.

Perhaps surprisingly, and again noting small sample sizes, particularly with Baez, Zobrist has comparable numbers to Baez at second base this season.

In 518.2 innings, Zobrist has three DRS to Baez’s four in 457.1 innings. Zobrist has a 3.1 UZR which is average, but higher than Baez (0.6).

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It is important to remember UZR is best measured over a significant period to get a true defensive potential. Baez has logged more time at short this season, and Zobrist has more time at second base for his career.

Considering Baez’s age, athleticism, and defensive prowess, it seems safe to assume the more Baez plays at second base, and really anywhere, the more the metrics will bear out his defensive strength.

As far as the Cubs go, they have a strong defense anytime both Baez and Russell are in the lineup.