It’s been about three weeks since I wrote about Nick Madrigal‘s uptick since the BABIP goods found favor with whatever offerings he provided them during his time on the IL. Through the Field of Dreams Game in which he went 3-for-5, Madrigal was batting .400 and had a 169 wRC+ from turning half of his batted balls into hits. That was only over 24 plate appearances though, so there was a sense that a reckoning was in order.
But while water has certainly found its level, Madrigal has still managed to log five multihit games in his last 16 starts, all in the leadoff spot. His average has indeed dropped to a more pedestrian .281, but his .352 OBP is exactly what you want in a table-setter. He has also reduced his strikeout rate to a paltry 5.6% over the last 71 plate appearances, and that number is well in line with what he’d done previously in parts of four professional seasons.
In addition to improving his plate approach, Madrigal has also been “hitting it where they ain’t” to a much greater degree. More specifically, he’s gotten away from what was a very pull-heavy approach early on and has been hitting the ball up the middle. He’s still not getting much hard contact, but he can get away with it as long as he’s not trying to drive the ball to left.
The first biggest change has been where he has been hitting the ball. At the start of the year, he had a pull-heavy approach (40.2%). Now, he has started to pull the ball much less (24.3%) and is going up the middle more (45.9%). His oppo approach has stayed in the high 20s pic.twitter.com/W9mypJgGkX
— Daniel Garcia (@CapeScouting) September 1, 2022
Those early struggles were exacerbated by opposing outfields playing Madrigal shallow and eliminating a lot of line drives that might otherwise have gone for hits. And when you hit it on the ground over 60% of the time, pulling it usually just means an easy out to shortstop. Going back up the middle opens the field for Madrigal and allows him to keep collecting base hits.
As for whether and how that impacts the intertwined futures of player and team, well, that obviously remains to be seen. There’s been a lot of talk about the Cubs pursuing a marquee shortstop and sliding Nico Hoerner over to second, thus displacing Madrigal. Or maybe you flip-flop that because none of the most likely free agent candidates are better than Hoerner defensively. I’d prefer to see the Cubs land a big-time shortstop and move him to third while keeping Hoerner and Madrigal in their current spots.
Then they can promote Matt Mervis to be the everyday first baseman, thus providing a nice mix of contact and power across the infield. Though I wouldn’t have said this back in June, I really think there’s a place for Madrigal as the Cubs get back to playing competitive baseball again. It just might not be for very long, however, as they’ve got a lot of infielders coming up through the ranks.
For the time being, I’m just enjoying Madrigal’s slap-hitting ways as one of the various facets of Cubs baseball in which we can find a little meaning these days.