Nick Madrigal’s improvements make him tougher for White Sox to replace

Gordie Howe didn’t have to score a goal, collect an assist and get in a fight 20 times in a year in order for that feat to be named the Gordie Howe Hat Trick. In fact, he only did it twice, and zero times over the final 24 years of his career. It just captured his combination of skills and edge pithily enough to stick.

Likewise, I’d hoped that Nick Madrigal might bury his most recent hat trick back on May 21 — an improbable single, a baserunning mistake, and rushing a play into an error — with two decades of production that would make the reference outdated.

And he was well on his way to doing that. He committed a minor TOOTBLAN the next day, and a throwing error on May 31 by not conceding an infield single, but otherwise steadied over the last three weeks. The lack of mistakes elsewhere allowed his offensive surge to be enjoyed without qualifiers. He hit .371/.418/.548 after that ugly performance at Yankee Stadium through his first three plate appearances on Wednesday.

Alas, on that third plate appearance, he suffered a leg injury a step away from first base, just like Luis Robert.

He also had to be helped off the field, just like Luis Robert. And now we’ll wait for an injury timetable that feels like it’s also going to be similar to Luis Robert’s, or at least Adam Engel‘s injury, since it also involves a hamstring.

There are multiple tough things about this development, and I’ll save the team aspects for when the White Sox issue a more formal update, presumably later today. What’s tough for Madrigal as a player is that he’d just put the aftereffects from his previous injuries behind him.

Between the wrist fracture he suffered at Oregon State and the shoulder he dislocated last year, he had a hard time pulling the ball with any authority. It resulted in ISOs of .089 in the minor leagues, and .029 his rookie season. That’s typically unplayable, unless you have Madrigal’s preternatural contact ability. Even then, the errors in the field and basepaths hampered his value.

But Madrigal finally restored his ability to sting the ball this year, resulting in an ISO that was somehow both .120 for the season and rising as of late (.177 post-hat trick). If he had no improvement left in him, we’d still be getting the modern-day Placido Polanco that we’d hoped for on draft day …

  • Polanco, 2001-09: .305/.350/.418, 5.2% BB, 6.3% K
  • Madrigal, 2021: .305/.349/.425, 5.1% BB, 7.9% K

… except such production is even more valuable in such a suppressed, strikeout-heavy environment:

  • Polanco, 2001-09: 103 wRC+
  • Madrigal, 2021: 118 wRC+

Beyond the shape of production, Madrigal had captured the Polancoan characteristics of his game, in which you were generally happy to see him. Righties, lefties, top of the order, bottom of the order, nobody really cared. You could just set him and forget him, and when the smoke clears at the end of the season, he’s right there with 4 WAR at second base somehow.

Madrigal was on the same track, on pace for a 3.8 WAR season despite the muted start at the plate and erratic start in the field. What’s more: While his season splits suggest he had little to offset the White Sox’s issues hitting righties, he’d found ways to damage them during this recent stretch:

  • vs. RHP through May 21: .275/.318/.370 over 148 PA
  • vs. RHP after May 21: .371/.418/.548 over 69 PA

This ability to cover the plate regardless of handedness shows up with runners in scoring position, and this particular White Sox leaderboard shows the danger in losing Madrigal’s particular impact for any length of time:

Player w/RISPPAK%BA
Yoán Moncada7021.4.358
Adam Eaton4623.9.351
Leury García5324.5.341
Nick Madrigal529.6.313
Yermín Mercedes6421.9.246
José Abreu7321.9.241
Tim Anderson5028.0.239
Yasmani Grandal3732.4.167
Andrew Vaughn3327.5.152

Entering the season, Madrigal was probably the regular whose absence the White Sox could most easily absorb due to his low ceiling and availability of playable backups. But with an entire outfield either hobbling or hurt, Madrigal’s ability to handle every matchup became a lot more important. Whatever Leury García is able to contribute is already needed in center field, and Danny Mendick hasn’t sustained positive first impressions in either of the past two seasons.

The White Sox have done an admirable job of next-man-upping their way through the various injury crises, but there was already a finite supply of men. There certainly isn’t a next Madrigal to be found, especially one who finally seemed to harness the entirety of his game.

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

Take a second to support Sox Machine on Patreon
Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

Articles: 3916
24 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
calcetinesblancos

Big loss, I agree. Between him and TA always putting the ball in play and then guys like Grandal and Yoan who are happy to work counts and wear a pitcher down, this is not a team I would want to pitch against.

lifelongjd

Wonder if they could move Yoan to 2b and bring up Burger? Depending on how long Madrigal is out, they may have to get creative to continue replacing production from injured regulars.

LamarJohnson

I found myself last night wondering “what way next?” in the event he’s out awhile. Unless there are outside options, I see:

  1. The Leury Gambit- Bringing up AAA “outfielders” like Sheets or Goodwin
  2. Infield Musical Chairs- Yoan to 2B/Burger to 3B, rotating with Mendick.
  3. Is Marco Hernandez at Charlotte expendible or worth a platoon with Mendick as a LH bat?
calcetinesblancos

Can Lamb play 2B?

As Cirensica

I don’t think he has the hands for it. He has never played 2B nor SS in his major league career.

Root Cause

I like your positive assessment of Nick. I would take 3 of him on a team a slot them evenly through the lineup. He may never be the face of a team but he can be one of the pillars that others rely on.

I have been biting my nails every time I see a runner close in on first with flashbacks of Luis. And damn if it didn’t happen again. I hope it isn’t serious but Stone’s comments were concerning. Hope we get some good news later today.

dwjm3

I don’t know if it is a serious injury or not but I do know Stone’s comments were largely meaningless. In fact his fears of an achilles was already found to be unfounded. He probably shouldn’t have speculated at all.

Last edited 1 year ago by dwjm3
As Cirensica

Yolmer Sanchez, who shows to be capable in putting a 1-2 WAR season is rotting away in Gwinnet (Braves, AAA). He is not doing very well with the bat though.

I really hope Madrigal absence won’t be akin to Robert’s.

jokkeholmberg

Still miss yolmers defense.

Soxfan2

It’s not going to be possible to internally replace Madrigal’s production. With that being said, I think we can make some improvements that may help on the margins.

IMO, we should call up Sheets and give him some at bats in RF. Sheets should be able to hit better than Eaton which can help make up for Madrigal’s bat a little while he is hurt.

joewho112

Question: I see people making arguments that if we let batters use pine tar we should let pitchers use grip enhancers. Am I wrong that batters improving their grip is more of a safety issue than a performance issue (i.e., you do it so you don’t accidentally throw your bat all the time)?

As Cirensica

Pine tar improves the quality of the batted ball. It has nothing to do with grip, right? It is smeared on the barrel of the bat. I could be wrong.

EDIT: I meant that the pine tar pitchers want eliminated is not the one used for grip improvement but in the bat itself which I think it is illegal anyways.

Last edited 1 year ago by As Cirensica
ParisSox

It’s like cheating is the game within the game. I suppose it’s always been like that but to differing degrees.

joewho112

This was in reference to Buck Showalter’s comments about if Josh Donaldson doesn’t think Garrett Cole should use Spider Tack then Donaldson should stop using batting gloves and pine tar. I am pretty sure the reason you want Donaldson to use batting gloves and pine tar is so Garrett Cole doesn’t get impaled by Donaldson’s bat flying out of his hands.

As Cirensica

100% agree

dongutteridge

It’s time for the Sox to trade for a good swiss army knife. I’m really hoping that they sign Chris Taylor this winter.

Who can they trade for this month?

soxfan

Couple off the wall suggestions about how to replace Madrigal, but none as off the wall as what they actually did.

joewho112

I guess this means a lot of Leury Garcia at 2B

dwjm3

Did the team give any color on the recovery time for that injury? Is he done for the year?

As Cirensica

I guess this is season ending?

GrinnellSteve

A complete tear in one tendon; a partial tear in another. They’ll decide on a course of action in a week. Surgery is an option. It sounds like it’s a likely option to me. Devastating news, but it’s about what I expected last night.

mrridgman

There are reputable studies out there concluding that in many cases,
the muscle mass of many current athletes exceeds the ligament/tendons ability to withstand the additional stress. You can’t strengthen ligament/tendons. I am probably oversimplifying these studies, and Nick doesn’t seem that muscled up; thinking more like Robert.

soxygen

Prior to Nick’s injury, I had thought we could afford to trade one of Garcia, Mendick, or Engel. Not so much anymore. So we have more need, but less to offer other teams.