Fantasy Baseball: Is Addison Russell Getting Overlooked?
While ascending through the minor leagues, Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell had that “can’t-miss prospect” label attached to him. He was mentioned in the same breath as other up-and-coming shortstops, such as Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor and Xander Bogaerts, but he's seemingly lagged behind them in fantasy baseball rankings.
NFBC Average Draft Position (ADP) data has each of his peers getting selected within the first 30 picks. Meanwhile, Russell currently has an ADP of 138.71, with players like Jonathan Villar (21.26), Trevor Story (31.74) and Eduardo Nunez (118.61) going off the board ahead of him.
Fresh off a 2016 season in which he slugged 21 homers and collected 95 RBI's -- which ranked seventh and second, respectively, at his position -- what more does he need to do to get some love?
Progression in Power
After going through some growing pains as a rookie in 2015, Russell’s power surge during his sophomore campaign makes him an appealing fantasy commodity.
In nearly the same number of plate appearances, he almost doubled his homer and RBI production, along with a marked increase in Isolated Power (ISO). This rise in dingers happened despite decreasing his fly-ball rate by three percentage points (40.7% to 37.7%), which is reflected in his home-run-to-fly-ball (HR/FB%) rate (stats via FanGraphs).
|Year||Plate Appearances||Home Runs||HR/FB%||RBI's||ISO|
For someone who had hit over 13 homers in a season once in the minor leagues, this is very encouraging. It’s even more encouraging when considering that 2017 will be just his age-23 season.
Improved Plate Discipline -- Kind of
An uptick in power production usually is rooted in improved plate discipline, which Russell did display last year, but not like we typically see it. From 2015 to 2016, he saw a rise in walk rate (BB%), along with a significant cut in his strikeout rate (K%).
What’s interesting is this happened while he was swinging more often overall, including both inside (Z-Swing%) and outside (O-Swing%) the strike zone.
One would imagine that as these numbers improve, it’ll have a positive impact elsewhere in his game, which is good, since that's where Russell lags behind his fellow former top prospects.
All the Other Stuff That Matters
We’ve already touched on homers and RBI, areas where Russell excelled in 2016, but what about the other categories that matter for fantasy purposes?
Here’s where he ranked at the shortstop position last year in batting average, on-base percentage, runs and stolen bases.
Suddenly, we can see why his ADP is so low, and why FantasyPros’ expert consensus rankings currently lists him 10th among shortstops.
While it seems like stolen bases is a category to punt with Russell, the solution to improve in the other categories is simple – by getting on base more often. His increasing walk rate helps, which also puts the focus on balls he puts in play.
Batted Ball Inconsistencies
Russell’s batted-ball progression from his rookie to sophomore season is encouraging in some spots, but it's also puzzling in others.
He made positive strides in all the right areas. He improved his line-drive rate (LD%), pull rate (Pull%) and hard-hit rate (Hard%), while maintaining his ground-ball rate (GB%).
Despite this, his BABIP took a nosedive from .324 as a rookie to .277 in 2016. Could it just be related to some bad luck? Possibly, but it could also be attributed to not making contact with pitches that give him the highest chance of success.
Russell swung more often last year -- as noted above -- but there wasn’t a drastic change in his O-Swing% or Z-Swing%. However, his contact rate inside the zone (Z-Contact%) and outside the zone (O-Contact%) went in opposite directions.
Even though his overall contact rate and hard-hit rate increased, the above numbers help explain the negative regression in his BABIP, along with a rise in soft-hit rate (20.4% to 23.7%) and a decline in medium-hit rate (52.6% to 47.0%).
The upside to having Russell on your fantasy baseball team is undeniable.
His power is already among the best at his position. He'll also be part of a stacked Cubs lineup that includes reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and a bunch of others, meaning Russell should be able to score runs -- as long as he gets on base -- and have a good amount of RBI opportunities.
At the ripe age of 23 and with the amount of individual success he’s already experienced, the sky is the limit.
Once you get to the 12th round of fantasy drafts -- which is where Russell is currently going in 12-team leagues -- you need to start looking for upside, especially at premium positions.
We’ve likely already seen the ceiling for fellow shortstops like Nunez (118.61), Elvis Andrus (156.18) and Troy Tulowitzki (156.55), who all have similar ADPs at the moment. We haven’t seen Russell’s ceiling just yet or even what a full year of production would look like when he puts it all together at the plate.
Given his situation in Chicago, he’s an extreme value at his current ADP, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him end up with an ADP much higher the closer we get to Opening Day.