Russell Can Flow: Shortstop Shines on Overall Garbage Day

There’s really no way to put it nicely, so I’m just gonna come right out and say it: Friday’s game was a steaming pile of pony loaf. Compounding the suckitude was the fact that it was the first day game of the season and the weather was absolutely perfect. I drove home from work with my windows down and the Cubs on the radio and all was right with the world. Well, until the Cub started pooping the bed like like a sick infant, anyway.

My one reprieve from tragicomedy of errors was the reality that this was nothing more than one of those random hiccup games that you just get out of your system and move on from. Well, that and the cases of Gumballhead and Zombie Dust in the garage. Nothing salves the wounds of a bad game like hoppy goodness.

Since I really don’t put any stock in the Cubs’ performance, there’s no reason to dwell on the mistakes. Instead, I’m choosing to focus on a couple plays Addison Russell made. And no, not the shortstop’s short-hop to Anthony Rizzo that bounced into the hole in the fence near the visitors’ dugout that Tom Ricketts was too cheap to have fixed. Spent all the money from the legacy partners on that fancy schmancy clubhouse but didn’t realize the misallocation of funds would cost his team an extra base in a meaningless game in April. Ugh.

Seriously, though, the freak play was kind of a microcosm for the game as a whole. Because of course it’d be Russell, the author of two other phenomenal plays. I’m not much of a prospect-head, so I wasn’t all that aware of this kid when the Cubs got him. But given the glowing praise heaped upon him by those who do track major names in the minor leagues, including the Cubs brass, I was quick to embrace the trade that brought him over from the A’s. Not that my approval meant anything, of course, just that was pretty happy to have such a highly-thought-of prospect in the fold.

Little did I know how quickly the kid would begin to live up to the hype of being compared to Barry Larkin. The bat isn’t there yet, at least not on a consistent basis, but the signs are all there. What’s been clear from the start, however, is that the glove is for real. Like, for really real. We haven’t seen this kind of defense at Wrigley since, well, since Larkin played there with the Reds. Maybe even since Ozzie Smith visited with the Redbirds.

What always strikes me about Russell is how effortless he is out there, how quickly he’s able to read the ball off the bat and how he makes nearly impossible plays seem routine. Getting to the ball is one thing, but Russell’s ability to pop up and pivot to make throws just blows me away. Take this play he made to end the 1st inning on Friday, for instance:

And here’s the Statcast version of the same play, complete with all kinds of fun stats. Take a look and we’ll talk about it after.

It took Russell only 13 hundredths of a second(!) to make his first step, after which he covered 18.4 feet to reach the ball. That equates to a route efficiency of 97.7 percent, which is prettay, prettay good. For those of you unfamiliar with that metric, it is “determined by dividing the length of the ‘optimal route’ for a fielder by the length of his actual route to the ball. A fielder’s goal is to have his Route Efficiency as close to 100 percent as possible.” So that’s cool. And that 2.3 percent surplus is even more understandable when you consider how little room for error there was on the play, not to mention the degree of difficulty. I mean, I can’t even achieve 97.7 percent efficiency on my route to hit the snooze on my phone alarm in the morning.

The highlight of Russell’s other big play (shown in the featured image) isn’t available to embed, but it was at least as good. He ranged to his right to backhand a ball in the hole, splaying his right leg out in order to maintain balance and give him a plant point for his throw to Ben Zobrist to start a double play. It sounds simple to write it out like that, but the seamless fluidity with with he was able to execute the move almost defies explanation. You can coach a player on the ideal way to attack a ball, but there’s no way to teach what Addison Russell does.

If skill and instinct had a baby, it’d be Russell’s defense. Well, except that it’s impossible for concepts to have babies. And even if they could have babies, they’d likely see fit to raise them as something slightly less frivolous than the aggregate physical and mental tools of a Chicago Cubs shortstop. Logical fallacy of my analogy aside, Russell embodies the kind of combination that the Cubs are becoming as a team. They are incredibly talented, incredibly smart, and also pretty young (you know, the baby thing).

Yeah, you’re right, I should probably log off now. Before I do, however, I’d like to remind you that it’s a long season and that there are going to be some really awful games over the next few months. But Russell making plays like these, to say nothing for the rest of the roster, means that there will be a lot more good games for us to enjoy.

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