Results tagged ‘ James Russell ’

Woody’s Winter Warm-Up tickets on sale now


(Art by Jerry Neumann)

Kerry Wood has spent most of his adult life honing his craft as a major league pitcher. So excuse him if he’s not a world-class bartender.

On Jan. 18, you’ll get your chance to see him in action and critique his skills as he slings drinks at the second annual Woody’s Winter Warm-Up at Harry Caray’s Tavern on Navy Pier. Starting at 8:30 p.m., Wood will join former and current Cubs players, as well as local celebrities, behind the bar, where they will compete for tips with all proceeds benefitting the Wood Family Foundation. Wood said the event is a good time, and current players like Darwin Barney, Jeff Samardzija and James Russell are expected to attend.

“People want to give back and do it for a good cause,” Wood said. “Last year … people got really into it, and it was really cool.”

At the inaugural mixer in 2012, the Grammy-nominated band Plain White T’s performed. They even got a little help from former Cub Randy Wells and baseball president Theo Epstein on a few songs. The event raised more than $85,000, thanks to about 30 current and former players, who pitched in behind the bar or simply enjoyed the evening.

But don’t count on Wood to make you the best Old-Fashioned or dirty martini of your life, as he admits this probably won’t be a new career path.

“I’m really good at taking the tops of beers off with the opener,” Wood joked. “I pour a mean glass of wine, but I’m not a mixologist.”

Tickets are on sale now and in limited supply. For more information, visit

From the Winter Meetings: Sveum on the bullpen [Part 2]


Former Cubs reliever and MLB Network analyst Dan Plesac (center) joined Brian Kenny and Tom Verducci for on-site reporting from the Winter Meetings.

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Here are more Dale Sveum dispatches from the sprawling Gaylord Opryland Resort, where the halls have been buzzing on this last full day of the Winter Meetings.

• Sveum made it clear the bullpen is getting attention in the Cubs front office. The team already re-signed Shawn Camp, their lone free agent, and may look to add more.

“Upgrading the ‘pen is something we wanted to do. … Whatever happens from here on out—we’re talking to a lot of people, and hopefully things work out. But [Carlos] Marmol is our closer, and we’ve got to get better at the back end. We signed Shawn Camp back, James Russell, so that’s a start. But we have to get better in that seventh, eighth inning.”

Sveum wouldn’t directly comment on Japanese pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa, though the Cubs’ pursuit of the reliever attracted plenty of Japanese reporters to the manager’s press conference. Fujikawa, a free agent who saved 220 games over 12 years with the Hanshin Tigers, clearly intrigues Sveum.

“I think he can fill any kind of role. He’s got that kind of stuff. Those numbers and that ability to do things with three, four different pitches just doesn’t come around very often. So he can set up, he can close, do anything he wants with the baseball. He’s got four quality pitches and can add and subtract with his fastball. Yeah, I mean, he can pitch in the seventh, pitch in the eighth, pitch in the ninth, he can get left-handers out—so he can pitch in any kind of situation.”

• Sveum spent about a week in Arizona to see Cubs prospects, including highly regarded shortstop Javier Baez, who just turned 20 last week. Many have compared Baez’s bat speed to Gary Sheffield’s.

“Incredible bad speed. Didn’t get to see any results, but the bat speed was pretty good. I didn’t go to his best games. But he had a heck of a minor league season—the combination of the home runs and everything. He was a bigger kid than I thought when I saw him in person. I saw him without a shirt on one day, and I was like, wow, he’s a pretty big kid. But a lot of tremendous, tremendous tools at that age. That kind of bat speed just doesn’t come around at 19 years old.”

2012 Player Profile: James Russell

James Russell stepped up in the late innings and proved he can pitch to more than just lefties. (Photo by Stephen Green)

2012 Innings Pitched: 69.1 (77 G, 0 GS)
2012 Pitching (all per 9 IP): 3.63 RA, 8.7 H, 3.0 BB, 0.6 HR, 7.1 K
2012 Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs): 0.7
2013 Contract Status: Signed (Arb eligible, First Year)
Repertoire (Avg. MPH): Four-seam (90), Two-seam (89), Cutter (87), Slider (82), Change (82), Curve (74)

After two consecutive successful years in the Cubs bullpen, James Russell has proven he’s no one-trick pony. But for a failed, emergency trial in the starting rotation last season, Russell has settled into one of the bullpen’s most vital roles: A late-inning lefty who can get both lefties and righties out.

Russell’s role was elevated in 2012 largely because of the Cubs bullpen makeover. Sean Marshall was traded to the Reds as he approached free agency, Kerry Wood retired in May, and it took half the season for Carlos Marmol to recover the closer role fully. As you’ll see in the November issue of Vine Line, Russell and Shawn Camp were basically the No. 2 relievers this season (based on average Leverage Index), with Russell getting a greater share of the team’s critical innings as the season went along. He became a more substantial bridge to Marmol as well. In 2011, Russell faced just one batter in 20 percent of his appearances; in 2012, he did that in just seven of 77 games.

Let’s take a closer look with PITCHf/x data, using the proprietary tags and tools provided by and Baseball Prospectus (player card).

Against left-handers, Russell becomes more or less a two-pitch lefty, primarily relying on his low three-quarters arm angle to sweep sliders away. He also pitches backward. He threw a breaking ball 76 percent of the time on 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 in a 0-1 count on 62 percent of first pitches.

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 (blue and green, respectively) is about half and half, and his cutter, two-seamer and change-up all play a more significant role. Using his full repertoire gives him a continuum of speeds and movement.

Against both lefties and righties, Russell pitches almost exclusively away—and he does this more than the typical left-hander. His splits this year were virtually equivalent. He allowed a .262/.309/.417 slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) against lefties and a .250/.317/.419 line against righties. The average platoon advantage for 2012 NL lefty pitchers versus lefty hitters was 39 points of average, 39 points of on-base percentage and 87 points of slugging percentage.

Russell’s strikeout percentage was about 19 percent against both. He did walk 9.4 percent of righties faced, as compared to 5.4 percent of lefties. But let’s control for things a bit better than that. Manager Dale Sveum asked his reliever to intentionally walk a right-handed hitter seven times this year. Remove those plate appearances, and Russell’s walk rate against righties dips to 5.7 percent. His overall walks also dips from a borderline-high 3.0 per nine innings to a quite-good 1.7 per nine.

Is the Cubs’ lack of a platoon split sustainable? Not necessarily—Russell had a more typical advantage against lefties in 2011, and we’re just too early in his career to know which is real. But the versatility of his repertoire is convincing. He can leverage his arm angle against same-sided hitters, while keeping righties guessing. But it’s his ability to command the ball that makes him so effective.

Russell has three full years of service time, so he enters his first year of arbitration in 2013 and will get a modest raise. The Cubs have him under team control through at least 2015.

Cubs venture to the South Side

The Cubs take a trip down the Dan Ryan Expressway this week en route to U.S. Cellular Field for the second leg of the BP Crosstown Cup. To add some fuel to Chicago rivalry, we’re breaking down the position-by-position matchups for both teams, starting today with starters and bullpens.

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Starting Pitching

Matt Garza (2-5, 4.04 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 8.3 K/9) vs. Zach Stewart (1-1, 5.18 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 5.55 K/9)

The Cubs will have an opportunity to jump out to an early lead in the series with the Sox’s Zach Stewart making his first start of the season. Last year, Stewart completed seven innings just once in eight starts after being acquired from the Blue Jays in a July trade.

But this may not be a sure thing. For a starter many believed was the Cubs’ ace going into Opening Day, Matt Garza has struggled a bit, especially of late. In his first six outings, Garza had a 2.59 ERA, a 0.99 WHIP and was striking out 9.19 batters per nine innings. In his last six outings, those numbers have worsened dramatically (5.87 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 7.55 K/9). With Adam Dunn and Alex Rios bouncing back, Paul Konerko likely having the best season of his career and many others hitting better than expected, Garza will have to pitch well to outlast the tough White Sox lineup.

Travis Wood (0-3, 4.58 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 6.1 K/9) vs. Jake Peavy (6-2, 2.91 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 7.83 K/9)

Travis Wood has been a consistent and solid addition to the Cubs’ rotation since joining the major league club in early May. The southpaw has completed five innings in all six of his starts and has gotten through the sixth in three of them. He’s only had one bad outing (5 IP, 6 ER, 7 H vs. the Padres, a game the Cubs still won) and has surrendered no more than three earned runs in five of six starts.

The Sox have been successful this season in part due to Jake Peavy’s return to dominance. After starting just 35 games over the last two seasons for the South Siders, Peavy entered camp healthy this year, and his numbers show he is back to his old, dominant form. One number that might be helping his cause is a .239 batting average on balls in play. Given the league average hovers somewhere around .300 and the Sox have a good-but-not-great defense, there might be some luck involved to his fast start.

Ryan Dempster (3-3, 2.11 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 7.3 K/9) vs. Gavin Floyd (4-7, 5.63 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 8.5 K/9)

Gavin Floyd has struggled of late to say the least. In his last six starts, he is 1-4 with a 10.71 ERA and a 2.01 WHIP. However, Floyd is still managing to strike out just better than one batter per inning.

Ryan Dempster, meanwhile, has been one of the National League’s most consistently dominant starters all season. Because of poor run support, the 35-year-old won his first start just three outings ago. Prior to his first win on June 5, the Cubs were averaging 2.89 runs per game in Dempster’s starts. But he has won each of his last three because the bats have finally livened up behind him.

While neither bullpen has been automatic this year, the Sox’s ‘pen has fared significantly better than that of the Cubs. Closer Addison Reed has converted eight of nine chances this season, while Matt Thornton (3.38 ERA) and Jesse Crain (2.18 ERA, 10.9 K/9) have been solid setup men.

The Cubs have a 4.51 bullpen ERA, second-worst in baseball, and have saved just nine games total, the lowest total in baseball. James Russell (2.56 ERA) and Shawn Camp (3.74 ERA) have both been good middle/late-innings relievers, but the closer spot is still a revolving door. It appears Carlos Marmol has regained that job after returning from a recent demotion.

Tomorrow on the blog, we’ll feature the infielders.

Russell following in father’s footsteps

Lefty reliever James Russell proved the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when he picked up his first major league save yesterday against the San Diego Padres. In a 14-year major league career, James’ father, Jeff, compiled 186 saves, leading the AL with 38 in 1989 when he was with the Texas Rangers. Over the years, 57 Cubs major leaguers have been part of MLB father-son combinations—recent Cubs call-up Casey Coleman is actually a third-generation major league pitcher.

In the June issue of Vine Line, we celebrate Father’s Day by looking at some famous father-son pairs in the Cubs system, including the Russells. The following excerpt is from our “Like Father, Like Son” feature.

The Russells

Cubs reliever James Russell always wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, and so far their career paths have been remarkably similar. Jeff Russell spent 14 years in the major leagues, beginning as a starter with the Reds and eventually notching 186 career saves with the Rangers, A’s, Red Sox and Indians. These days, he does some work with the Rangers and gives lessons on the side.

James pitched as a starter for the University of Texas before being drafted by the Cubs in the 14th round in 2007. In 2009, the Cubs moved him primarily into relief work, and his career took off. Although he still has his sights set on starting, he’s been a key cog in the Cubs bullpen since 2010.

James practically grew up in major league clubhouses, something Jeff said gave James an advantage over other young players. James not only got to witness the work ethic of professional athletes, he also got to see how players prepared themselves mentally.

“It was awesome,” James said. “You get to run around the clubhouse and see all the guys you watch on TV—and learn from them. Being around them and seeing how they do things and how they carry themselves was really important.”

James said nearly everything he knows about pitching he learned from his dad. Although their styles are a bit different—Jeff threw harder and is right-handed—they are still able to share trade secrets. Jeff watches every game (he admitted it’s hard for him to sit still when James is pitching) and is happy to offer advice from his years as a closer.

“After every time I throw, usually the first person I call is my dad,” James said. “He’s right there watching or has it taped on DVR. And he goes over the pitches and tells me what he thinks I did and what he thinks I should do. We just kind of chit-chat about it and see how to right the wrongs.”

Jeff said while he’s happy to impart advice to his son, he’s not sure how much James really needs it. Jeff, who said his proudest moment was when his son made the Cubs’ big league roster, has been impressed by how fast James picked up the game.

“He’s well ahead of my career right now because he understands how to pitch. It took me maybe four or five years to really learn how to pitch,” Jeff said. “At this point in his career, if he stays healthy, he can pitch for as long as he wants to.”

The Buzz: What’s your favorite water activity?

The weather’s been steamy in Chicago lately, so featured in the August issue of Vine Line, we asked a few Cubs players how they most like to spend their time on the water.

James Russell (pictured), LHP

“I’d say fishing. I’ll fish for anything, but mainly we bass fish. We have a pond near our house in Texas that’s stocked with fish.”

Lou Montanez, OF

“I boat and fish a lot in Miami. Shallow water fishing, flu fishing or saltwater fishing. I’m pretty addicted to it. I have a lot of equipment- but most of it was probably a waste of money. My wife tells me that at least.”

Jeff Samardzija, RHP

“Uh, I snowboard. It’s frozen water, I guess. I can ski and wakeboard, but I’m just really not that good at it. My water sport is more throwing an anchor out and floating around on the water.”

1000 Words: Reliable Rami

What a game, what a night: James Russell and Matt Garza were the first ones out to mob Aramis Ramirez after hitting a ninth-inning walk-off single in the Cubs’ 2-1 win over the Giants. (Photos by David Durochik)

Blackhawks fever!

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for INSIDE THE IVY LOGO.jpgIt was a long homestand, and the Cardinals took 2-of-3 after the Cubs took 2-of-3 from the Dodgers. But one thing was for sure: The Chicago Blackhawks were offering the entire city positive energy in their chase for the Stanley Cup, and they brought it to Wrigley Field.

Last Tuesday, after they had made quick work of the San Jose Sharks, several of the players were at the game and chatted up Cubs left-hander Tom Gorzelanny.

In the stands (left to right) Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brian Campbell and Adam Burish, all sporting their playoff facial hair in true lumberjack style.

(Complete our Vine Line survey and be eligible to win a bag of Cubs gear!) 

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Burish and Gorzelanny (below, left) struck up a conversation right before the game started.


blackhawks2small.JPGThen they all watched as Cubs legend Lee Smith helped conduct the 7th-inning stretch.

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And as an added bonus, international kung-fu film star Jackie Chan (below) threw out the first pitch with rookie James Russell catching him.

–Mike Huang

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