One of the best things about having a blog and being a pure amateur at such endeavors is you can use the naivete of your amateurism to ask questions that would be readily dismissed by the professionals. Having no reputational risk is freeing, liberating if you will. It makes the joy of writing, thinking and generally acting like a fool so fun, so impassioned. It also leads you down rabbit holes, like this. Where should Nick Madrigal bat?
The 2020 season brought about many a complaint about the structure and order of Ricky Renteria’s lineup, but I barely heard a peep about the positioning of Nick Madrigal in that lineup. For me, it was my only material complaint, the rest is just window dressing. Nicky Stix hit 9th, all the time. To me, it would seem like a crime against run scoring to put your top OBP guy on the roster hitting 9th. Now, I get it, it was 29 games and 109 PA, so I’ll give Ricky and the org a mulligan on this one, and they can use whatever narrative they want to ease it over, but in 2021, I needs a change.
As you can see in the table above, the player gets on base in a particularly rare way. A .376 OBP isn’t really that odd, but pairing it with a .340 batting average seems to be. What should we do with these particularly special skills? A player that hardly ever walks and only strikes out at 6.4% clip when the league at large strikes out at a 23.4% clip in 2020. How do we deploy this unicorn?
Now, I understand that maybe the short season isn’t the best gauge and we are dealing with a very small sample (pun intended), however, Nicky Stix has always delivered this kind of stat line, basically all his life…
So where should he hit….let’s take a look at a few possible suggestions.
HIT NICK MADRIGAL 2ND
That’s what the majority of the old school baseball fans will tell you. Something, something, but handling the bat, hitting behind runners and executing a hit and run. Hey, I grew up with that kind of baseball too, so I don’t think it’s a bad suggestion, but hardly a no-brainer in my mind. A couple of data points.
1990 League Strikeout Rate 14.9%
2020 League Strikeout Rate 23.4%
You see, back when I was 12, in 1990, the strategy of hitting the “bat handler guy” 2nd was optimal, because moving that runner over was so much more valuable, those hitters behind him were putting the ball in play a lot more than they do in 2020, making it a chief duty of the player in that position. Nowadays, with less and less balls being put in play and the ones that are, more often going out of the ballpark, this positioning of your bat handler is less optimal (at least in theory)….one more thing.
Nick Madrigal had a ground ball rate of 55.2% in 2020 (small sample size caveats implied), while the league hit ground balls at a rate of only 42.7% (extra contact must go somewhere), which lead to Nicky, batting out of the 9 hole mind you, grounding into 5 DP’s in his 109 PA’s, which is a 4.6% rate, while the league as a whole hit into double plays at only a 1.9% rate. I’d imagine with Tim Anderson getting on base a whole bunch ahead of him it’s possible his large rate of ground balls might trend worse in the 2nd spot than in the 9th spot. But who really knows…just a thought.
HIT NICK MADRIGAL 1ST
I’ll admit, this was my initial thought too, as a guy with a fair amount of on-base skills but no thunder in his bat should lead-off, right…..right?
The table below is from Baseball Reference and denotes hitting from all positions in 2020.
It looks like lead-off hitters in the year 2020, have a bit more thunder in their bat and more functional speed than ole Nicky (let’s take a day off of talking about his poor 2020 baserunning, okay?). Also, there is just one other problem with leading him off….that spot is already spoken for by someone of more tenure.
I don’t really know how those types of things play in the clubhouse and whatever marginal gain you might get from moving Nicky Stix into the 1 hole may or may not be worth it, but it’s definitely a option.
HIT NICK MADRIGAL 6TH
Okay, I’ll admit, this was not suggested by anyone of even moderate baseball intelligence, nobody that I have seen that thinks clearly suggested this. Nope, just old BeefLoaf. Well, what?
Maybe it was just the pained reaction of a White Sox fan after the 2020 season watching Mazara, Robert and Encarnacion leave runners on base with their massive strikeout rates from this relative position that lead me down this path, as Aldo Sotosuggested on the Pinwheels and Ivy podcast (I was on this past week, check it out). Or maybe it was just pure curiosity of what would a super high contact hitter do in a spot where you normally don’t put a super high contact hitter? Let’s take one more look at the table I inserted above from Baseball Reference.
The 6th hitter in the order tends to be about the last averagish hitter. Look at how the OBP of the first 5 hitters hold relatively constant, with a bit of a dip to the 5th & 6th hitter. Now focus your attention on the large dip in RBI from the 5th hitter to the 6th hitter. It appears that at least some of that decline is in the lower batting average and lower slugging of the players in this position. Nicky ain’t gonna help with the latter, but with a massive bump in the former, could a guy like Nicky become a good run producer, being a bat handler type guy from the 6th position? I don’t know. I do know that you can’t walk him and you can’t strike him out, so the ball is going in play somewhere and in 2020, 34% of the time that was a hit.
So where should Nicky Stix hit in 2021? I hope it’s not 9th, and I would love to see them try 6th.