Matt Mervis went 0-for-3 with a strikeout on Wednesday night in Anaheim, but those other two outs are part of an underlying data set that tells us he’s due for positive correction very soon. Let me just say right here at the start that those of you who want to point to a .176 batting average and .531 OPS as reasons for Mervis to be demoted probably aren’t going to like this. Same for anyone who looks purely at results over process.
Now, that isn’t to say results don’t matter because of course they do. It’s just that taking box score numbers at face value ignores a good deal of contextual information that offers clues as to why those numbers may be higher or lower than expected. For instance, Mervis’s .244 batting average on balls in play is at least 50 points lower than what he’s had at any level since the start of last season.
That alone isn’t enough to tell the story because it could just be a matter of him not squaring the ball up or being placed in bad matchups. But he is hitting the ball well in spite of what the results say to those who may not have been watching, he’s just calling tails and seeing the coin come up heads more often than the law of averages would otherwise dictate.
Hitting the ball hard is the best way to ensure a high likelihood of getting a base hit. Yeah, you can squeak a dribbler through every now and again, but higher exit velocities are always going to be better on the whole. Statcast defines a hard-hit ball as anything at 95 mph exit velocity or higher, and the low end of that scale results in a .280 expected batting average. Mervis lined out to right with an EV of 110.1 that had a .750 expected batting average and flied to left center at 95.1 mph, which was just a .220 xBA due to launch angle even though it required a nice running grab by Mike Trout.
Those two batted balls are just pixels in the larger image, however, as Mervis is among the best players in baseball when it comes to generating exit velo. Among 430 players who’ve had at least 25 batted-ball events so far this season, Mervis ranks 24th with a 53.2% hard-hit rate. That mark puts him third among all rookies, with only KC’s Maikel Garcia (55.6%) and Tampa’s Luke Raley (54.9%) ahead of him.
While this is far from a guarantee that Mervis will suddenly turn things around, it sure looks like things are going to improve for him in a hurry as he continues to build up his experience. That means playing him as much as possible and letting him learn from his mistakes.
“The fact that I’m getting my opportunities,” Mervis told media members, “and continuing to get at-bats when I’m going through this stretch, is important for me…
“It’s just trusting that what I’m doing will work and the balls I’m hitting hard will fall, but also learning and adjusting.”
Along those same lines, another member of the organization appears to have made the kind of adjustments that could earn him another shot here soon. Nick Madrigal is a very different hitter from Mervis and there’s still reason to wonder whether the BABIP gods are simply blessing one player while cursing the other, but the li’l fella is continuing to absolutely destroy Triple-A pitching.
After going 3-for-5 with a double Wednesday night, Madrigal is batting .486 with six doubles, two triples, and a homer in 45 plate appearances with Iowa. He’s got a 1.416 OPS, a .598 wOBA, and a 253 wRC+ in that time, all of which are incredible even given the small sample. Not that any of it is sustainable, mind you, but Madrigal sure does seem to be making the most of his demotion.
It’s been enough to soften some of the hardest hearts, and I can’t say I disagree at this point.
Just how poorly are things going for the Cubs right now?
I, yes me, yes FullCountTommy, think it's time to give Nick Madrigal the majority of the starts at 3B for the Chicago Cubs.
— FullCountTommy (@FullCountTommy) June 8, 2023
Madrigal isn’t of much value to the Cubs in Iowa unless this white-hot stretch has other GMs blowing up Jed Hoyer’s phone to swing a trade. Thing is, those execs are probably going to need to see how the infielder translates this sudden surge against big-league pitching before they start dialing. And given the way the Cubs’ offense has sputtered for a while now, it’s not like Madrigal could really be a detriment.
They’ve gotten him warmed up down in Iowa, now it’s time to bring him back to Chicago and see if he can prove his hit tool plays. Whether that’s as a piece for the future or as a trade chip, Hoyer needs to figure out how Madrigal fits here soon.