Friday, May 1, 2020
Nick Madrigal white sox prospect contact rate
MLB players are getting bigger by the year, but Madrigal is diminutive, listed at 5-foot-7. MLB players are stealing fewer bases by the year, but Madrigal swiped 35 last season. MLB players are hitting more homers by the year, but Madrigal, who batted .341/.400/.451 at Double-A last season and .331/.398/.424 after his Triple-A debut on August 1, hit only four round-trippers in 120 minor league games in 2019, including only one in 29 Triple-A games played with the lively big league ball.
(Even that one was an inside-the-parker.) And MLB players are swinging and missing more by the year, but Madrigal’s whiff and strikeout rates would have looked low during the deadball era. Madrigal makes no sense. He’s a contact unicorn.
“I feel like I’m my own player,” Madrigal says when I ask him whether he sees similarities to his game in any established big leaguers. With anyone else, a reluctance to compare skill sets could come off as arrogance or humility, depending on the player and tone, but in Madrigal’s case, it’s simply stating a fact. He has an uncommon claim to uniqueness.
Let’s start with the strikeouts (which Madrigal, a natural leadoff guy, generally doesn’t do). The right-handed hitter struck out 16 times in his 532 plate appearances across three minor league levels last season (starting with Winston-Salem in High-A and ending with Triple-A Charlotte). That’s a 3.0 percent strikeout rate, less than half that of the minors’ second-most strikeout-averse hitter (the Rays’ Wander Franco, who checked in at 7.1 percent). The lowest strikeout rate by a qualified big league batter last season was Hanser Alberto’s 9.1 percent—more than three times as high.
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“Whether it be an elite closer or an elite starter, he can put the bat on the ball with the best fastballs and the best breaking balls, which you just don’t see,” says White Sox director of player development Chris Getz. Getz, a former second baseman who hit three home runs in 1,574 career MLB plate appearances in a seven-year big league career that began with the White Sox, might see something of himself in Madrigal, but even there, the comparison falls flat: Getz has five inches on Madrigal, and almost four times the career K rate.
Minuscule strikeout rates are a rarity in the minors, too. Only 10 hitters in the Baseball Prospectus minor league database, which extends to 1978, have struck out less often than Madrigal in a season of at least 400 plate appearances. Twins non-strikeout sensation Willians Astudillo, who struck out in 2.4 percent of his 418 plate appearances in High-A in 2015, is the only other hitter to do so since the 1990s.
Madrigal’s contact rate is similarly extraordinary. Last season, Madrigal swung 828 times at 1,745 pitches and whiffed only 43 times, good for a 94.8 percent contact rate that easily led all minor leaguers who saw at least 1,000 pitches. The gap of 3.7 percentage points between Madrigal and the second-place player—Cleveland’s Ernie Clement—was as wide as the gap between Clement and the 22nd-place player.