Addison Russell on his Biggest Adjustments

Addison Russell already had one of the twenty-best debuts by a shortstop we’ve seen in the free agency era. But two adjustments — one made last year, and one made this spring — could end up driving the 22-year-old beyond his projections this year. Particularly because both adjustments spoke to his biggest flaws.

Even the most ardent Russell supporter can remember back to the time when there were questions about the young shortstop. Would he make enough contact to take advantage of his power? Would he be able to stick at his position defensively? It’s nice that there are only two questions, but they are important ones.

Let’s take the first first because it happened first. (I’m here for all your writerly needs.) First, let’s look at Russell’s main problems at the plate. Here’s his heat map for runs above average from early in the year last year. Note the holes.


“They try to run stuff in on me and then they try to go soft soft soft down,” Russell admitted about the game plan and his strengths. “I think they see some holes there.”

If you look at Russell’s first and second-half swing maps, two trends emerge. Can you spot the areas with the most change? His first half swing heat map is on the left, the second half is on the right.


“I was swinging at balls,” Russell said of his early work last year. “But if I’m seeing that ball in now, I’m pretty much going to take unless I’m feeling good or it’s straight. I just want to see them up and out over the plate. That’s what I honed into late last year and here in the spring.”

The shortstop remembered going through this sort of thing before. “I think there’s a process. You’re going to a new league, you really don’t know how they are going to pitch you. I struggled a lot in High A. I was 19 at the time and I wasn’t used to the sinker and the cutter, and that’s what they threw a lot of. Ball started moving a little bit, and I hadn’t seen that before, but around the second half of High A, I got used to it, and the rest is history.”

When I talked to Russell shortly after he made those adjustments, at the end of a 2013 season that saw him in the Arizona Fall League for more action, the topic was the other big question: How would he get better at defense in order to quiet the questions about his position?

At the time, he talked about reading hops, having consistent timing, and leading the defense around him. He’s still thinking about staying at shortstop, but now the focus is slightly different. Now he’s working on his body. “I dropped 15 pounds from last season,” Russell said. He’s been working on speed training, and reading the ball off the bat, too, but being lighter was something he thought would help him be the best shortstop he could be. (He’s not worried about losing power — “The body feels good. My power is still there, I’m 15 pounds lighter and I’m seeing the ball well and the ball is coming off the bat two times harder.”)

He’s had to work on his legs anyway, since he had to leave the Cubs before their season was over because of hamstring issues. By “running efficiently” — something we learned from Carl Crawford is a science that can help you stay healthy — and also “strengthening the small muscles around the hamstring” with weights and balance training, he hopes those problems are behind him.

“The biggest adjustment I had was in High A and the big leagues,” Russell says generally of the stops and starts that make an early career in baseball. The key part of that quote — hopefully — is that the toughest of those adjustments is behind him.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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6 years ago

Good stuff.