Now with Cubs, Nick Madrigal’s production remains hard to project

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 27: Chicago White Sox second baseman Nick Madrigal (1) throws to first for an out against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at Guaranteed Rate Field on September 27, 2020 in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Rob Grabowski/Icon Sportswire)

While it’d be nice if Dan Szymborski’s job merely involved projecting current and potential members of the White Sox, he’s also required to cover the former White Sox who could make fans and front office members kick themselves. Therefore, a couple days after publishing the White Sox’s ZiPS projections for 2022, he released next year’s forecast for the Chicago Cubs, including Nick Madrigal.

Trading Madrigal (along with Codi Heuer) for Craig Kimbrel courted a significant amount of risk, and we’re seeing some of that risk materialize with projections at second base. When you look at the diamond graphics depicting the ZiPS performances with FanGraphs’ depth chart projections …

… it suggests the White Sox shot themselves in the foot while standing on a boat, and the bullet traveled through both.

When you have two second basemen, you don’t have one — at least when the production is half that of the one second baseman traded away. A 2.3 WAR projection is generally a welcome sight for somebody making the league minimum, and Madrigal’s at that level for one more year.

However, if you scroll down the post and get to the unfiltered ZiPS data, and it paints a slightly dimmer picture for Madrigal — especially when accounting for what the system pegged him for in 2021.

  • 2021 ZiPS: .290/.335/.368, 3.3 WAR over 462 PA
  • 2021 actual: .305/.349/.425, 1.3 WAR over 215 PA
  • 2022 ZiPS: .295/.339/.386, 1.7 WAR over 417 PA

Because Madrigal once again played less than half a season due to a significant injury, the conversation remains the same as the one we had last year — can a projection system quickly get a handle on such an extreme profile with so few peers? The ZiPS line still feels underequipped, especially since Madrigal was hitting better than ever before his injury (.365/.420/.568 over his final 20 games of 2021).

Yet the issue is still the one Rick Hahn wrestled with at the deadline — how many surgeries can Madrigal endure before it starts lowering the top end of his skill set? He’s lost large chunks of three of his last four seasons with hand, shoulder and hamstring injuries, with the latter two requiring surgeries. Madrigal made small-to-sizable improvements in all three facets of the game in 2021’s limited sample, but because he stopped being able to take literal strides on the field, he missed out on an opportunity to make figurative strides on paper. Max effort is by definition an arduous way to make a living, which is why most players try to get by on less when the opportunity allows.

When the White Sox made the decision to deal Madrigal for Craig Kimbrel, I was mostly stunned that Madrigal could be dealt for something resembling his commensurate big-picture value while injured for the remainder of the season, so I reacted with three questions:

  1. How much can César Hernández make up for Madrigal?
  2. Is Madrigal more an ideal than an actuality?
  3. What’s the specific value of 2021?

The current problem is that the answers to 1) and 3) were 10th-percentile outcomes. Kimbrel and Hernández were supposed to buy the White Sox a little bit of time with their team options for 2022. They instead provided zero cover. Neither factored into the postseason push as imagined, and even if everybody wanted to see Kimbrel pitch, the shape of the series with Houston sidelined high-leverage relievers on both sides.

The White Sox declined Hernández’s $6 million option and the market said it was a wise choice, as he signed with the Nationals for $4 million. Kimbrel’s $16 million option remains on the books, and nobody is particularly thrilled about it.

At the time of the deal, I mentioned that Hahn was flirting with two layers of trouble with this kind of trade.

As good as Kimbrel has been — and he was the best reliever available — one has to acknowledge the risk in trading players who are significant assets to a lineup for high-leverage relievers. There’s the matter of standard reliever volatility and the need to succeed over naturally small samples. There’s also the idea that the game needs to get to them in order to matter. Over the course of a 162-game season, a functioning Madrigal is the kind of player who makes a functioning Kimbrel matter.

… and it turns out that both volatility, with the only solace that Madrigal wouldn’t have mattered for 2021 either.

With regards to Madrigal, the question about 2022 and beyond remains the same, in that he might be hard-pressed to put together the best version of his game month after month. It just would’ve been a lot more comfortable watching it if Hernández looked like a cromulent second baseman on an easily absorbable salary, or if Kimbrel looked like an asset that could land somebody comparable. As long as there isn’t a similarly acceptable option on hand, everybody on the White Sox’s side is watching this question resolve itself from a very exposed position.

(Photo by Rob Grabowski/Icon Sportswire)

Author

  • 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.

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a-t

no matter how jubilant the theme at the start or even middle of a season, it’s been quite a while since i watched the end of a white sox season that wasn’t a baseball incarnation of the specific feeling of distant but growing strains of the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme

As Cirensica

I wonder if Hahn will be able to trade Kimbrel before the season starts. He may have better value at July’s deadline to contenders with shaky bullpens, which could even include the White Sox.

Right Size Wrong Shape

In a vacuum that may be true, but not trading him ASAP practically eliminates any chance that they address any of holes on the roster as constituted.

As Cirensica

That ship has sailed already. I do not think Hahn is gonna do anything to solve RF or 2B regardless of Kimbrel status. I think he might sign a SP of those you can get cheap.

We do need a backup catcher though, and badly.

Last edited 2 years ago by As Cirensica
peanutsNcrackerjack

Agreed. With the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, et al, not having participated in the top level FA market yet, it’s difficult to image the WS signing anyone of consequence. Maybe they get a backup catcher with the Kimbrel trade, but no one with any better credentials the Hernandez had at 2nd base.

Augusto Barojas

I’m sure that unlike the WSox, those other 3 teams will spend once the lockout is over. The Sox have no plans to compete it seems, they seem content with winning a pitiful division and being one and done each year in the playoffs until it is time to blow up the team again. I only hope that the Jays wind up in their division, to force Reinsdorf to actually do something if he wants a guarantee of having any playoff revenue again. Still boggles my mind that Grandal is the biggest signing of the whole damn rebuild… to call their overall rebuild effort pathetic would be too kind.

Trooper Galactus

Reinsdorf is among the owners pushing for, like, half the league to make the playoffs. If he can get rewarded with mediocrity, he’ll absolutely be happy to be mired in it.

HallofFrank

Why do you think that ship has sailed? There are plenty of 2B and RF available. Just because they didn’t sign Marcus Semien doesn’t mean they won’t add.

As Cirensica

Because a cheap solution like Cesar Hernandez was passed on, and the big tickets were obviously passed on. There are some options available none of which excites me because they won’t outproduce by a lot whatever Cesar Hernandez would produce.

We instead got Leury on a 3 year extension. He, Ronny, and Danny can man 2B. Sheets and Vaughn will do in RF. That’s it.

We do need a back up catcher. We cannot play another season with Grandal and Collins.

HallofFrank

You might be right, but not much has happened to change my opinion of what the Sox will do coming into the offseason. Most Sox fans are just overreacting to the four-team flurry before the lockout. There are plenty of avenues to upgrade the roster, and I expect they’ll add a 2B, RF, or both.

GrabSomeBench

I didn’t like the Madrigal trade at the time and I like it less after watching Kimbrel implode. It’s hard to quantify Madrigal’s value on the data geek review. This guy adds tremendous bat control and makes things happen by coming up with a hit when needed to start a rally, extend an inning or drive in a run in a close game. I was hoping he would improve in the field but we didn’t get to see that happen. People worry about replacing a backup catcher that hardly plays but I want to know who replaces Little Nicky?

Trooper Galactus

Zavala and Collins logged 336 PAs between them and -0.6 fWAR collectively. Honestly, I feel better about Leury as a starting 2B than I would with either of them on the 26-man.

GrabSomeBench

I don’t want to see Garcia at 2B as a starter. Why not forget the season if that happens? He’s a backup despite TLR’s praise. As for Zavala, I think he’s a minor leaguer. Collins, however, has not had the chance to prove himself. TLR seemed to love to match him up against left handed pitchers, which admittedly didn’t go well for ZC. It should be noted that Collins, while playing more in the 1st half, hit substantially better than he did in the second half when he didn’t play much (.230 to .174). Righty lefty splits were also revealing with Collins going .222 against righties but only .176 against lefties.
I’d bring him back and only have him start against Right handed pitchers. The pickings for backup catchers are slim and we’ve committed a first round pick to Collins. The upside is much higher than a scrap heap backup that you’ll find on the street.

As Cirensica

Collins hasn’t gotten the chance to prove he is a lousy catcher? Really? He is a terrible catcher, and he can’t hit lefties.He barely is replacement value hitter vs RHP. That’s not a backup catcher. A backup catcher is one that generally brings one good skill to the table. Could be defense or a keen hitting ability. Collins has neither.

burning-phoneix

While I agree that Collins’ stints in the majors have been jerky and not allowed him to settle, the team can’t afford to give him any more development time at the major league level. His 85 OPS+ would be fine for a backup catcher if he was a decent defender but Collins is one of the worst in baseball in that regard. Just have him and Jerry Narron in Charlotte to see if he figures it out.

Trooper Galactus

B-P hits it on the head here. Collins hits well enough for a catcher, but he can’t field the position at all. Expecting him to improve also seems foolish given he’s been a catcher his entire professional and collegiate careers, and most of the focus on his development has been on improving his defense. At best, maybe he does like Narvaez and figures it out with another club, it it ain’t happening here (never mind Narvaez was a much better hitter).

shaggy65

While we can argue the merits of the trade itself, I’ve come to think there are several things that made the Sox decide that Madrigal was expendable:

  1. 2B undervalued in free agency – Kolten Wong’s non-tender a year ago was a slap in the face to the baseball world and a clear indication that capable and even good 2nd basemen could be found affordably via free agency or trade. Cesar’s cheap availibility seemed to validate that belief. Heck, Yolmer Sanchez and his gold glove stayed in AAA all last season.
  2. Madrigal’s physical limitations – As discussed above, Nicky Two Strikes was not adept at staying on the field and didn’t display the game-changing speed or defense that were supposed to be part of his profile.
  3. Madrigal was hot – If you were concerned about point #2, then you would want to trade Nick at the peak of his value. He was injured, yes, but he had looked like a borderline all-star for at least a month before that. If the Sox felt like that “power” was unsustainable, they wanted to trade him when his long-term value was high.
  4. Madrigal’s personality – I can’t point to any one thing, but I got the feeling that Nick had rubbed the organization the wrong way. He never quite seemed to gel with the clubhouse chemistry and he wouldn’t be the first fan-favorite grinder-type athlete to be a complete jerk off the field. I kind of wonder if Hahn tried to head off the next Adam Eaton-type conflict before it could happen.
Right Size Wrong Shape

There’s no way to spin the trade as anything but a disaster, but I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t a part of me that isn’t relieved that I don’t have to cheer for Madrigal and pretend like he’s good when I really hate his game. He has ability, I know, but I just really can’t stand watching a guy who looks and throws like a little leaguer, and often seems to be hitting with a rolled up newspaper instead of a bat. That and everyone assumes that because he’s a little white guy he is some kind of baseball-smart grinder, when he seems like a dumb player to me. He would have driven me insane if I had to watch him every day for 5 years.

That’s a lot of negative feelings for a guy who played a total of 83 games for Sox and performed pretty well in those games (1.7 bWAR).

I don’t share your relief he’s gone. I think I would’ve found 5 years of watching Madrigal much more palatable than the two months of Kimbrel I endured instead (in which Kimbrel produced 0.0 bWAR).

GrabSomeBench

I hadn’t heard anything about personality and I tend to doubt it. It is more likely that Hahn and company undervalued him and overvalued Kimbrel. Hopefully, someone is just as stupid and we can get a 2Bman back or even a backup catcher to satisfy the Collins haters.

Trooper Galactus

I don’t hate Collins, I just hate watching him play.

calcetinesblancos

If Madrigal plays the entire 2022 season, I will be shocked. People don’t get healthier as they age.

Amar

(Re: #4) That’s right, he didn’t shake Ricky’s hand!

Ben

The trade was always ‘chance for great now’ in exchange for ‘chance for extended good’

I loved the move at the time. Get a reliever to turn the playoffs into 7 inning affairs while losing nothing this year.

That’s not how it went down for 2021, but that has nothing to do with 2022.

There was no reason to push good money after bad with the Kimbrel extension.

There’s also no reason currently to not push good money after good for Semien or Seiya or Starling or Baez or Taylor.

The problem is letting one bad decision cascade into other bad decisions.

To Err is Herrmann

I understood the Madrigal-Kimbrel trade at the time. It was a worthwhile risk that failed miserably. Kimbrel for a backup catcher and maybe a low A lottery ticket sounds about right. I am going to hold off predicting what the White Sox will do to deal with RF, 2B and possibly SP. My head tells me Jerry R is okay mediocre, inexpensive upgrades, but once again I have to wonder if Tony La Russa is okay with that. Did he just come back to add to his total win total? I thought the guy wanted another ring.

I think he’s just happy that he found someone dumb enough to let him manage again.

calcetinesblancos

Romy Gonzalez has the potential to be a 2B that can get on base and have a bit of pop. If they don’t address 2B, they should make him the starter and see how he’s doing at the deadline. I’m really disappointed that they Sox don’t seem to be going after Suzuki. If they signed him, I’d care a lot less about 2B.

Also, we really need this lockout to end. I can’t keep talking about Nick Madrigal.

GrabSomeBench

Agree with Romy suggestion based on the current market. Also agree that they should have chased Suzuki. Maybe they will go after Conforto but I doubt it. Perhaps Hahn will surprise us and fill the needs with a Kimbrel trade. Picking up the option is going to seem very dumb if the Sox can’t convert it into usable assets in Right or at second.

Trooper Galactus

Look, I’m impressed with the way Romy was able to force his way up the ladder, but the guy has barely a thousand PAs in the minors and in a healthy organization doesn’t just leapfrog his way into a starting job. If they’re just handing him second base for 2022, that’s just plain nuts.