Pitcher Profile: James Russell
(Photo by Stephen Green)
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James Russell was drafted as a starter in 2007, but the southpaw from the University of Texas was summoned to the bullpen during his 2009 minor league season—a move that has paid off for the organization. Russell posted a 4.96 ERA in 49 innings in 2010 and then a 4.12 ERA in 67.2 innings the following year. Though he showed improvement with each season, he really found his niche as a middle-to-late-innings reliever in a breakout 2012 season.
Recording a career-best 3.25 ERA in 69.1 innings of relief, he remained constant in a rather unstable bullpen. Both his strikeout and walk totals could stand a little improvement for a reliever (55 K, 23 BB), but he did manage a respectable 8.7 H/9 total. Throw in his seven wins (good for third on the team), and 2012 was a successful year for the 27-year-old.
Russell is one of several pitchers profiled in Vine Line’s 2013 Pitching Preview, available in the April issue, on sale now. We’ll be posting pitching profiles throughout the month, so be sure to check back to see what’s in store on the mound for 2013.
Repertoire (Avg. MPH): 4-seam (90), 2-seam (89), Cutter (88), Change (82), Slider (82), Curve (74)
2012 Stats: 69.1 IP, 18.8 K%, 5.6 UBB%, 3.25 ERA, 121 ERA+, 1.30 WHIP
Last Season: The 2012 bullpen makeover elevated Russell and Shawn Camp to the team’s No. 2 relievers (based on Tom Tango’s metric Leverage Index), with Russell getting a greater share of the team’s critical innings as the season went along. Russell also became a more substantial bridge to the closer. In 2011, Russell faced one batter in 20 percent of his appearances; in 2012, he did that in just seven of 77 games (9 percent).
Plan of Attack: A reliever vs. lefties and a starter vs. righties. Russell lives away, away, away. It may be predictable, but his ability to locate with a deep arsenal makes it effective. His splits against lefties and righties were virtually the same—from AVG/OBP/SLG to K% and UBB%. It looks like there’s a reason for it, though he’ll have to prove he can sustain the trend.
Against left-handers, Russell becomes more or less a two-pitch guy, primarily relying on his low three-quarters arm angle to sweep sliders away. He also pitches backward. He threw a breaking ball on 76 percent of first pitches and went with 39 percent fastballs when ahead in the count. The first-pitch slider seems to work because it resulted in a ball only 24 percent of the time—and 62 percent strikes.
On the other hand, you can see Russell’s roots as a starter in how he attacks righties. The overall mix of hard and soft stuff is about half and half, and his cutter, two-seamer and change all play more significant roles. Using his full repertoire gives him a continuum of speeds and movement to keep hitters guessing.
Putaway Pitch: Slider. Though Russell relies on his breaking ball more on the first pitch, it’s still a weapon late in the count. Lefties have trouble laying off it, and righties struggle to pull the trigger as it comes through the backdoor.