Written by: Justin Choi
Follow him on Twitter: @justinochoi
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As reported by several sources yesterday, shortstop Addison Russell, formerly of the Chicago Cubs and their 2016 championship team, has signed with the Kiwoom Heroes on a $530,000 contract.
To many, this signing came as a surprise. Although Russell’s issues with domestic violence and his on-field performance have made Major League teams reluctant to give him another chance, nobody expected a former All-Star to make the sudden jump to the KBO.
It seems that as the owners and players struggle to find middle ground over the existence of baseball, Russell is the first of disillusioned players to look for opportunities elsewhere.
So what will Addison Russell bring to the Kiwoom Heroes? He’s been signed as a replacement for third baseman Taylor Motter, who was DFA’d after hitting .114/.135/.200 across 37 PAs. Unless Russell gets into a freak plane accident on his way to Korea and forgets how to play, he’ll certainly out-perform Motter’s miserable ten-game stretch.
But Hye-Sung Kim, the temporary replacement for Motter, is doing a solid job – a 110 wRC+ with adequate defense is nothing to complain about. The question, then, becomes whether or not Russell can provide even more offensive and/or defensive value than Kim has so far.
Foreign KBO hitters are like lottery tickets. You never know if you’ll get an Eric Thames or a Taylor Motter. But teams are willing to give them a chance because even somewhere in between Thames and Motter would mean 4 to 5 wins above replacement.
Addison Russell, however, is no ordinary foreigner. His 3.7 bWAR, 2016 season alone dwarfs the career totals of former Major League journeymen who arrive in Korea hoping for a second renaissance. He’s faced nasty MLB pitching and still managed to hit 21 home runs in a season.
So although his .237/.308/.391 triple-slash in 2019 is paltry by Major League standards, the skills used to achieve it will likely reflect well in the KBO, which many scouts and analysts agree is similar to the Double-A or Triple-A levels of American professional baseball.
That’s why I decided to look at Russell’s Double and Triple-A stats to gauge how well he’d fare in Korea, organized below in a table (Note: I’ve excluded two stints at both levels due to a small sample of 5 PAs or less):
|2014 (AA, with Oakland)||13||.333/.439/.500||173|
If Russell’s KBO days are anything like his Double and Triple-A days, then he could potentially become the league’s best third baseman. Jeong Choi of the SK Wyverns leads all third baseman in offensive WAR with 1.4 according to Statiz, a Korean version of Fangraphs. He’s doing so with a 136 wRC+, which is about the median outcome of Russell’s four stints (132 wRC+). Of course, previous years’ wRC+ aren’t exactly predictive of next year’s, but he’ll be at least an above-average player in Korea.
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned defensive WAR. That’s because Statiz doesn’t track UZR or DRS and uses its own system instead, making me hesitant to include it. But even a cursory glance at Russell’s Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference page reveals his defensive prowess. In 2016, his 15 DRS was third amongst all shortstops, behind Andrelton Simmons (20) and Brandon Crawford (25). Picture Aaron Altherr’s offense with Dixon Machado’s defense – that’s the potential of Addison Russell.
It’s why the Kiwoom Heroes handed him the contract, fully knowing the negative publicity to come. Regardless of whether you view this as an ethical decision or not, it’s undeniable that Addison Russell will be a critical component of the Heroes’ push towards the playoffs, providing countless web gems along the way.
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