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The Next Step for Nick Madrigal

by Nik Gaur

Nick Madrigal is a very rare player in today’s game. While hitting for power is increasingly common among hitters, you don’t necessarily need to do so in order to be effective. Madrigal does not project to hit for much power, and that is totally fine. Players can affect games in many ways, and Madrigal is the kind of player who may transcend certain hitting statistics such as OPS or wRC+. However, there still exists one glaring deficiency in his skillset.

Madrigal’s elite bat-to-ball ability is certainly advantageous. The league average batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, tends to hover around .300. Since Madrigal rarely strikes out, it actually is not at all outlandish to think that he could thus be a .300 or so hitter early on in his career. Regardless, the problem with this is that Madrigal, who would likely be more of an on-base guy than a power guy, still doesn’t project to be much of an on-base guy.

Whether it’s his plate approach or his (limited sample size) statistics, Madrigal is a hitter who does not take many walks. He prefers to swing often and put the ball in play. In college, Madrigal walked at about an 8% clip, and so far in the minors, he is walking at a 4% rate. Of course, not every player needs to draw walks, but when a player already is primarily a singles hitter, walks are basically needed in order to get on base enough to warrant being a top of the order bat. If a player such as Madrigal does not learn to take walks, he becomes Dee Gordon (with fewer strikeouts); this is not such a bad thing, as Gordon has had a respectable career as a leadoff hitter, but he has only had two seasons in which his offense was above league average because, despite high batting averages, he simply has not gotten on base enough to offset his lack of power.

Since Madrigal does not strike out often, it is easier to justify him having a lower walk total. When he makes an out with runners on base, he is more likely to make a productive out- advancing a runner, sacrifice flies, and so on. Even with these traits, however, a .300 hitter without power or the ability to draw walks would still be a below average offensive player.

Luckily, it is easy to teach someone how to draw walks relative to teaching a player how to strike out as infrequently as Madrigal does. Since he projects to offer value defensively and on the basepaths, Madrigal can still be a productive MLB player even if he provides something like a .300/.320/.380/.700 slash line (BA/OBP/SLG/OPS). This value is, again, only strengthened by his abhorrence for striking out.

I am not advocating for Madrigal to start taking all close pitches, as his biggest strength is his ability to make contact. I am simply hoping that he can continue to improve on his ability to work counts, therefore putting him in a position to receive and take an obvious ball four. If Madrigal can just take that next step and walk at a respectable rate, his offensive value would see an enormous increase.

Featured Photo: Winston-Salem Dash

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