This is the time of the fantasy baseball season where we look for value. We are exactly two weeks away from the All-Star Game and our fantasy teams are at the point of make or break. We’ve seen pitchers kill us with 10-day DL stints, but at the same time we’ve found gems off the waiver wire that have turned into main stays on our rosters. On the other side, we’ve seen first round selections start off slow and take months to finally look like the players we were hoping we’d see when they were the first player on our rosters. Still, there are numerous owners, including myself, searching for help to make a playoff push. When we search, we want value. This can come through trades, but if you don’t have the necessary assets to acquire the player that will help, you start looking at the waiver wire. At this time of the season, the players that are getting regular at-bats have been plucked through and there’s not much left. However, we pay extra attention to the percent owned (%OWN) category and there are still gems that have either been let go for one reason or another, or have yet to be rostered. This week, I bring you a player that is two seasons removed from driving in 95 runs and coming off a forgettable 2017 season. I give you this week’s installment of “That’s Amore!” Addison Russell: Rebounding In A Big Way & Paying Fantasy Dividends.
2016 was a huge season for Addison Russell. After hitting the scene in 2015, he impressed and gifted fantasy owners with 21 home runs and 95 RBI. He was looking like a main stay for numerous owners. Fast-forward to 2017 and we knew we’d see regression, but no one could have predicted personal issues coupled with plantar fasciitis. After the season, fantasy owners and Russell himself were eager to put behind a season in which he failed to come close to the 21 home runs and 95 RBI of 2016. His slash line of .239/.304/.418 was similar to his 2016 mark of .238/.321/.417, but there were numerous differences in the two seasons. Watching at-bats, I quickly noticed he wasn’t making contact with authority. Driving it the other way was becoming obsolete and, even when he got around on a pitch, he wasn’t making great contact. There were numerous lazy pop flies.
Two metrics that stuck out like sore thumbs were BB% and K%. His walks decreased by 1.7% and his strikeouts increased by 1%. No, these numbers aren’t glaring, but for a player that’s looking to drive the ball, this can cause issues. His FB% dropped from 37.7% to 36.8%. Again, not the greatest decrease in percentage, but there was a noticeable different in swing percentage. In 2016, his Z-Swing% (swings made at pitches inside the zone) was 72.8%. 2017 saw this number decrease to 69.9%. We are seeing a complete turnaround this season as his Z-Swing% is up over 70% at 71.3% and his Z-Contact% is at 85.% which is the highest it’s ever been. He’s simply doing damage when swinging at pitches inside the zone. If we look even deeper, when he does swing, he’s only missing at 11.7% which is the lowest it’s been throughout his four seasons in the majors.
One of the percentages I pay close attention to is what part of the field players are hitting the ball to. From 2016-2017, Russell was dead set on pulling the ball as he posted 44.2% and 41.0% respectively. Teams were shifting their infielders to the left side of the field and more times than not, he hit right into the shift. This season, we’ve seen Russell hit the ball up the middle, and the opposite way, raising his Cent% from 34.1% (2016) and 33.7% (2017) to 42.4% (2018). If a hitter is struggling, nearly all hitting coaches will tell you try and keep it simple and hit the ball up the middle or use the opposite part of the field. The number that stands out greatest is his improvement of hitting the ball the opposite way. This season, his Oppo% stands at 30.9% (a career-high) compared to 21.7% (2016) and 25.3% (2017). Again, if teams are shifting to the pull-side of the field, this leaves a lot of open ground up the middle and to the opposite side. Not only has his production increased, but we’ve seen his wOBA get back to a solid point. His .331 wOBA is better than both 2016 (.316) and 2017 (.305) and the highest it’s been in his career.
Looking at Russell’s splits, one of the areas we’ve seen major improvement comes versus left-handed pitching. From 2016-2017, Russell has slashed .243/.353/.458 with 12 HR and 34 RBI. This season, he’s slashed .302/.362/.476 with two home runs and eight RBI against southpaws. This has played a huge role for not only Russell, but the Cubs in general, as the Cubs have shown struggles versus lefties in previous seasons. Again, this is directly correlated to the willingness to hit the ball up the middle and the opposite way. More times than not, a left will try to pound the corner. When they do this, and a player tries to pull the ball they will usually make lazy contact or roll over a ball when trying to pull it.
If you’re like me and your looking for better production from the shortstop position, or for the utility spot, take a long look at Addison Russell. Again, he’s owned in less than 30% of leagues, and he’s been on fire as of late. After hitting a combined .315/.437/.405 with zero home runs and four RBI in March and April, he’s hit a combined .303/.370/.445 with five home runs and 22 RBI in May and June. No, these numbers are anything crazy, but it’s a rebound from the first month and change to start the season and he’s currently slashed .329/.386/.481 with three home runs (one grand slam) and 12 RBI. He’s sitting top-15 in hits, top-15 in runs scored, top-20 in RBI, and top-10 in OBP. If you’re more interested at looking at his numbers over his current hot streak, then these ranks are more up your alley. Over the last 15 days: 7th in hits (14), 7th in runs (8), 3rd in home runs (3), 4th in RBI (11), and 12th in OBP (.848). These numbers are definitely worth giving a look to if you are looking for help at shortstop or a utility spot.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Cole Freel and Kyle Amore live on Sunday July 1st, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #127 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will discuss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Major League Fantasy Football Radio Show: Join host Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live June 21st, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #83 of Major League Fantasy Football Radio. Call in number is 323-870-4395 press 1 to speak with the host. We will hit free agents, rookies, and fantasy football as a whole for each team for 2018. This week we will discuss everything AFC North!
Kyle is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com going on his 5 th year. He focuses primarily on baseball, but is a fantasy football fan and analyst as well.