White Sox: Nick Madrigal is developing into an elite hitter

(Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images) /

Nick Madrigal of the Chicago White Sox came into the season saying it was his goal to get 3,000 hits in his career. Only 32 players in the history of baseball have ever accomplished that feat. On the surface, it seems like an absurd total to have as your career goal. Madrigal’s teammates even poked fun at him by wearing “Mr. 3000” tee shirts with his face on them.

There is a reason for Nick Madrigal’s confidence in himself. For starters, he puts the ball in play. In 532 plate appearances in 2019, Madrigal only struck out 16 times.  That is only a 3% strikeout rate. He first got his feet wet in the big leagues in 2020 and hit .340. His .340 average was the highest by any White Sox rookie since 1940.

For his entire MLB career, Madrigal has just over a 4% strikeout rate. For context, according to FanGraphs, the average MLB strikeout percentage is 20%. They consider a 10% strikeout rate as excellent and Madrigal is well below that threshold. Mind you this is a relatively small sample size but Madrigal has shown signs that these numbers are not an anomaly.

During the ninth inning of Saturday night’s walk-off victory over the Texas Rangers, he put his situationally hitting on full display. The man nicknamed “Nicky Two Strikes” was down 0-2 in the count. Runners were on first and second with two outs of a tie game. Most hitters would try to do too much and press in this situation.

Instead, Madrigal took an 80 mph slider the other way. He ripped a line drive over the head of Joey Gallo in right field for a game-winning double. The batted ball speed was clocked at 98 mph. Those that have been following Madrigal closely should not be surprised. The numbers show that this is what he has been doing all season.

Madrigal currently leads the MLB in contact percentage (95.5), in zone contact percentage (98.6), out of zone contact percentage (90.2), and two-strike batting average (.409). His bat control is on an entirely different level from the rest of the MLB. If it is in the zone he rarely swings and misses.

Even more impressive is the 90.2% contact rate out of the zone. Even when he is chasing bad pitches he still manages to put the bat on the ball. Teaching plate discipline is one of the most difficult things to do in baseball. Traditionally you are taught to swing at only what you can hit. This does not apply to Madrigal because he can hit literally everything.

What will really set Madrigal apart is the ability to drive the ball on a consistent basis. He has shown flashes of the ability to do just that. Against Shohei Ohtani, he turned on a 97 mph fastball and ripped it up the middle for a single with a 104 mph exit velocity. Later in the season, he smacked a 97 mph fastball thrown by Nathan Eovaldi down the line for his first career triple. Unfortunately, scouts grade him as a 20 on the 20-80 power scale. He is not known for hitting baseballs hard.

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The floor is already high for Madrigal. The numbers show he is a really good hitter but he has the ability to become great. If he can consistently drive pitches he can turn from a slap hitter to someone that can realistically reach his goal of 3,000 hits.