Allergic to the K
Today’s baseball is known for long home runs, gigantic players, and countless strikeouts. While many players are cut from that mold, Nick Madrigal is not. The 23-year-old second basemen for the Chicago White Sox has made a name for himself. It isn’t a surprise that a former 1st round draft pick is excelling at his sport, but Nick goes above and beyond. He is elite in the minor leagues in one aspect, not striking out. In his highest level of AAA in 2019, he only struck out in 5 of his total 134 plate appearances. The fact that some players strike out five times in a game makes this feat more impressive. The real question is will his roughly 3% strikeout rate stay that low when he makes a move up to the MLB? Let’s figure it out!
Fact or Fiction: The nick madrigal experiment
I will set a base for understanding what is average in the MLB for K% and then move forward from there. You can use this graph below for more information that comes from Fangraphs.com.
This graph above tells us that the average hitter strikes out at a rate of 20% at the big league level. With the high quality of pitching at that level, it is no surprise to have that rate. I will look for this average to trend up over the next five years due to increased fastball velocity and pitch design. The next fact that I want to talk about is that a 10% K rate is elite. Nick Madrigal, had a total strikeout rate of 2.9% in the minors in the past two years over 705 plate appearances. Below is his total strikeouts per level per year with the most strikeouts coming at 6 total strikeouts in 218 plate appearances at A+ in 2019.
With this graph, you can see that our friend Nick Madrigal is an elite hitter. To get an idea of how elite Nick is I will show the leaders of the MLB in K% last season amoung qualifiers.
|1||Hanser Alberto||Orioles||550||9.1 %||0.305|
|2||David Fletcher||Angels||653||9.8 %||0.29|
|3||Michael Brantley||Astros||637||10.4 %||0.311|
|4||Yuli Gurriel||Astros||612||10.6 %||0.298|
|5||Kevin Newman||Pirates||531||11.7 %||0.308|
|6||Miguel Rojas||Marlins||526||11.8 %||0.284|
|7||Jean Segura||Phillies||618||11.8 %||0.28|
|8||Josh Reddick||Astros||550||12.0 %||0.275|
|9||Alex Bregman||Astros||690||12.0 %||0.296|
|10||Adam Frazier||Pirates||608||12.3 %||0.278|
The lowest K% in the MLB last season among qualified batters was 9.1%. That was Hanser Alberto of the Baltimore Orioles. He struck out in 50 of his 550 plate appearances. For fun, Nick Madrigal would only strike out 16 times if he carried over his MiLB K%. Those two differ by a total of 44 strikeouts, which may not seem like a large difference. A fact that I want to remind everyone of is that just one extra hit a week is the difference between a .250 hitter and a .300 hitter. If a player theoretically makes contact 44 more times and hits at a conservative rate of .270, that’s roughly 12 extra-base hits than Hanser could have had. Which could mean that Nick will be a contender for batting average titles. However, is that rate feasible, simply no. I would be hard-pressed to believe that Nick Madrigal could have a rate of 3% strikeout rate at the big league level.
What will Nick Madrigal become?
The value of a player who doesn’t strike out is way more than you would think. Since Nick is striking out less over the course of a season that means he is making more contact. More contact will lead to more opportunities for a batter to get hits and get on base. Overall, that will lead to more runs and more wins for a baseball team. Wins are the name of the game.
One note than many people forget is that great hitters develop power easier of the course of a career and great power hitters rarely develop contact ability. Which could be a sign that Madrigal will find power in his future. Nick, who is 5 feet and 7 inches weighing 165 pounds is no large man. However, do you know who is of a similar size? Jose Altuve is an inch shorter than Madrigal and has displayed power in his career. Not to say they are comparable but it can give White Sox fans hopes for some power with age. The real question is where do I see Nick Madrigal in the future?
Nick Madrigal had a slash line of .309/.371/.398 in his MiLB career over 2 years up to AAA. He has hit 4 home runs over the course of the 2 years and has hit 34 doubles. The power is not there at the moment but like I stated before could come with years of experience. Now, do I expect him to stay the same with his strikeout percentage? No, I don’t believe we will see a 3% strikeout rate from Nick Madrigal in the MLB. The real expectation of someone of his caliber may fall in the 5% range to 10% range throughout his first season. He has displayed a copious amount of plate discipline which is my reasoning for his optimistic 5% strikeout rate. If he is in the 5-10% range, I see no reason that he can’t have a batting average around .300. Nick has the knack to hit line drives and well-placed ground balls, combined with his speed, will create tension for many defenses. To understand his speed, he ran a 6.50 60-yard dash time in 2014. That is plain and simply fast. However, he is not as fast as Dee Gordon or Billy Hamilton. Dee recorded a 6.35 60-yard dash time and Billy recorded a 6.20 60-yard dash time.
Not only does Nick have potential at the plate but he can flash the leather. With the raw speed he has there is no doubt that he has the range. In highlight videos, there are some examples of him making tremendous plays with his glove. When he garners more experience over the course of his career, he could become a top of the line fielder. Fielding is one of two areas speed helps defenders. Simply put, you can teach glovework, but not speed. This gives me hope for him to be in the top 10% of the league at second base with the glove.
Overall, I see Nick becoming a 10-20 home run hitter with a slash line around .320/.390/.435. He is a dream straight from Moneyball that will not set the world on fire but will get on base and score runs. Especially for a Chicago White Sox team that seems primed to become the best in the AL Central with sluggers like Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Yoan Moncado, and Tim Anderson. To end this article here is a little hype video for all the Nick Madrigal faithful!