Cubs’ Russell not left out vs. righties
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Associated Press Chicago Cubs relief pitcher James Russell reacts after the final out against the Atlanta Braves in the ninth inning of their baseball game in July at Turner Field in Atlanta. Chicago won 4-1.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer wasn't being disgusting when he spat out the term "LOOGY" at the Cubs convention last month.
In fact, Hoyer was being quite complimentary of left-handed reliever James Russell, who had just signed a one-year contract for $1.075 million.
Cubs left-handed setup man James Russell had a solid season last year, going 7-1 with a 3.25 ERA and a WHIP of 1.30. Here is how he stacked up against some other lefty setup men in the NL:
Sean Marshall (Reds)
5-5, 2.51 ERA, 1.16 WHIP
Randy Choate (Dodgers, Marlins)
0-0, 3.03 ERA, 1.22 WHIP
Wesley Wright (Astros)
2-2, 3.27 ERA, 1.18 WHIP
Rex Brothers (Rockies)
8-2, 3.86 ERA, 1.48 WHIP
Javier Lopez (Giants)
3-0, 2.50 ERA, 1.42 WHIP
Marc Rzepczynski (Cardinals)
1-3, 4.42 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
For those unfamiliar with some of the newer baseball terms being tossed around today, LOOGY stands for "left-handed one-out guy," or a bullpen specialist who generally can get only left-handed hitters out.
What Hoyer was trying to say is that Russell is much more than that for the Cubs.
"There's no question," Hoyer said. "When he finally went to the bullpen and really focused on relieving … what he can do is get lefties and righties out.
"So many guys in baseball, you call them a LOOGY, a lefty specialist. He's not that guy. He can go in for a clean inning and get three guys out.
"If Dale (manager Sveum) wants to match him up, if he has two righties and two lefties coming up in the next four hitters, that's fine. That's a thing that very few lefties in the game can do. I think he'll keep on getting better."
Russell has been a workhorse for the Cubs the last two seasons, and he's always been good out of the pen, a brief and disastrous run as an emergency starter in 2011 notwithstanding.
After making 59 relief appearances and 5 starts in 2011, Russell worked in a career-high 77 games last year, going 7-1 with 2 saves, a 3.25 ERA and a WHIP of 1.30.
Now, here's is what Hoyer was talking about with the whole LOOGY thing:
•Against right-handed batters, Russell gave up a hitting line of .250/.317/.419 and 2 homers.
•Against left-handed hitters, the line was .262/.309/.417 with 3 homers.
So the results were pretty much the same, meaning Sveum can feel comfortable tossing Russell out there against tough left-handed or right-handed hitters.
"I take pride in that a lot," Russell said. "I'm not scared out there. It doesn't matter who's up there. I know I can get them out. It's just being confident and making pitches."
It's not a big surprise that Russell isn't scared. It's in his genes. His dad, Jeff Russell, was a solid major-league closer. The most obvious difference between the two is that Jeff Russell was a right-handed power pitcher.
Russell's emergence is particularly important to the Cubs, and it provides a window into how Hoyer and team president Theo Epstein operate.
Back in December 2011, Epstein and Hoyer traded popular and effective lefty reliever Sean Marshall to the Cincinnati Reds in a deal that brought left-handed starter Travis Wood and outfielder Dave Sappelt to the Cubs.
Marshall was due to cash in big financially, and he did with the Reds, getting a three-year, $16.5 million extension to stay in Cincinnati.
With the Cubs in a rebuilding mode, Marshall would have been an expensive luxury and one who eventually could have walked away without Epstein and Hoyer getting anything in return.
Instead, they decided to trade Marshall and put Russell into Marshall's role as left-handed setup man. For the Reds last year, Marshall went 5-5 with 9 saves, a 2.51 ERA and a WHIP of 1.16.
Those numbers are slightly better than Russell's, but not by a whole lot. Marshall struck out 10.92 batters per 9 innings while walking 2.36. Russell struck out 7.14 per 9 while walking 2.99 per 9.
In the overall scheme, Russell has pretty much established himself as one of the better left-handed relievers in the National League.
"He pitches," Hoyer said. "He doesn't get guys out with stuff. His pitches are plenty good, but he's not a guy that's going to overpower you. I think because of that, he'll get better and better the more he takes the mound."
As far as the workload goes, Russell showed no statistical drop-off late in the year. In fact, his WHIP in September was a tidy 1.07, his best monthly total of the year, and batters put up an OPS of only .570 against him, also his best month of the year.
"I feel like I made a big step last year and feel I can progress off of last year and keep it going," he said. "I felt healthy the whole year. I had no problems. I'm ready to do even more games this year."
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