Nick Madrigal came into the season with two homers in 324 plate appearances, so no one was expecting much power from him. But only three of his 22 hits in 110 plate appearances as a Cub have gone for extra bases and those have just been doubles.
That’s very similar to 2020, when Madrigal had three doubles and no homers in 109 plate appearances, giving him the exact same .029 ISO he has this year. The big difference is that he had 32 singles to post a .340 batting average as a rookie. He was hitting .305 with a .120 ISO last season before a hamstring tear ended his campaign.
Never one to take his walks — you don’t get the name “Nicky Two-Strikes” for being a very patient hitter –Madrigal’s OBP has always been inflated by his batting average. That leaves him precious little slack when his bat isn’t very active, which has been the case this season.
The real trouble is that, unlike Frank Schwindel or Patrick Wisdom, Madrigal can’t slug his way out of a slump. And based on the way other teams are playing him, he may not be able to slap himself out either. A look at Madrigal’s disappointing spray chart from this season shows that none of his hits have traveled more than 300 feet.
This knowledge has led outfielders to position themselves as a Little League team might against the kid at the bottom of the order, which would be insulting if it weren’t so highly effective. Even accounting for a little rust as he came back from surgery and got acclimated to his new team, Madrigal’s performance this year is not enough to keep him up with the big club.
His 14.5% strikeout rate is nearly double what he had on the South Side (7.4%) and he’s hitting more grounders with softer contact. Combine that with shallower outfields that prevent some of those base hits from dropping safely and you’ve got a hitter who needs to take some time in the minors to rework his approach.
While the specifics of the situation were different for Ian Happ, being demoted for most of 2019 allowed him to address holes in his swing that had cratered his offense. The Cubs have more than enough depth in the middle infield to let Madrigal figure something out in Iowa, whether it takes the rest of the season or just until the trade deadline.
I don’t know what the exact solution entails, but my initial thought is that he’s got to find a way to generate more power. And I’m not talking homers, just driving the ball to the gap and making outfields play him honestly again. Absent such a change, it’s hard to see a spot for Madrigal moving forward. That would certainly give the Cubs more freedom to pursue an elite shortstop and move Nico Hoerner to second base.