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Can the White Sox Find a Madrigal Replacement?

On Wednesday night, Nick Madrigal hit a groundball to third base. That’s a normal state of affairs; he’s fourth in the majors in total grounders so far this year. While hustling down the line, however, he tweaked something in his leg and pulled up slightly. It looked like it might be a nagging injury, but the truth turned out to be far worse: Madrigal was diagnosed with a complete tear of one hamstring tendon and a partial tear of another, and the Sox have placed him on the 60-day IL.

Madrigal and the club have a decision to make. A surgery to fix the tears would end his season. The earliest timeline for rehabilitation, though, would place him back on the roster around the end of August, and there’s no guarantee that rehab would go smoothly. The final decision on whether to opt for surgery won’t come this week, but in the meantime, it’s not too early to consider what it means for the AL Central-leading White Sox.

Whether batting at the top or bottom of the lineup, Madrigal had been a spark for Chicago this year. His contact-focused, all-fields grounder game doesn’t resemble the way that baseball is played in the major leagues today, but that doesn’t make it any less effective. Hitting everything you swing at and running like mad afterwards is an effective strategy, particularly when you don’t have power to rely on as a backup. It’s worked to the tune of a .305/.349/.425 line so far this year, good for a 118 wRC+.

Some of the component stats are downright hilarious. Madrigal’s 7.9% strikeout rate is absurd; his 5.1% walk rate is comparatively normal but still much lower than league average; his 3.03 GB/FB ratio ranks fourth in baseball. His 3.7% swinging-strike rate is second only to David Fletcher, and his 91.8% contact rate is the best mark in the majors. If you’re not going to hit the ball hard or at least in the air, you need to make up for it by putting a ton of balls in play, and Madrigal unquestionably does that.

Of greater concern to the White Sox than how he arrives at his offense, however, is how much offense he provides. That’s mostly covered by the 118 wRC+, and that’s a big chunk of offense to replace. Only eight players we list as second basemen have bested that mark, and that includes Max Muncy, Chris Taylor, and Jazz Chisholm Jr., who all get a decent amount of playing time elsewhere on the diamond.

That doesn’t take into account defense, and while defensive metrics don’t agree on Madrigal (UZR and OAA like him, DRS doesn’t), his speed and smooth work with the glove are universally praised by scouts and team executives, not to mention teammates. He looks to be a plus defender at the position, another tough thing to replace midseason.
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John Curtiss, Now With Control

When Kevin Goldstein previewed each NL team’s trade deadline reach-out calls earlier this week, he listed a smorgasbord of available Marlins. Corey Dickerson, Jesús Aguilar, Miguel Rojas, Starling Marte; if you’re looking for a hitter, the Fish have you covered. Want to shore up your pitching and catching? Sandy León, Yimi García, and Ross Detwiler say hello.

If I were calling the Marlins, though, I’d be tempted to skip that extensive selection and order off-menu, as you might with Wondee Siam or, if you’re less of a cheap New York dining hipster, In-N-Out Burger’s well-known but unlisted selections. Forget those brand name offerings; I’d be interested in finding out what it costs to get John Curtiss.

Curtiss hasn’t been a Marlin for life. He’s not an under-appreciated gem they’ve nurtured through their farm system. In fact, he started in the Twins system and excelled in the minors before scuffling (15 IP, 7.20 ERA) in two brief call-ups. The Twins shipped him to the Angels to ease a roster crunch, the Angels granted him free agency, and a brief stop with the Phillies ended with 12 poor minor league innings and a release.

That’s not quite a fairy tale story, but then things got interesting: the Rays, who know a thing or two about finding undervalued relievers, entered the picture. He carved through the AL East in 2020, but got shelled in the postseason. With the Rays facing a 40-man roster crunch (water is wet, the sky is blue, and the Rays have too many viable major leaguers), they traded him to the Marlins in exchange for Evan Edwards, a fourth-round pick in 2019.

The general story — the Rays turn a pitcher they found on the ground into a valuable draft pick — favors Tampa Bay, but in this case, Curtiss looks like a diamond in the rough. He’s always had some juice — he throws a mid-90s four-seamer and an upper-80’s slider, and both pitches miss their fair share of bats. He put up 30% strikeout rates nearly every year in the minors, and that’s mostly continued in the bigs. Read the rest of this entry »

Tyler O’Neill, Two-True-Outcome King

Tyler O’Neill’s batting line doesn’t make any sense. I don’t mean that in a good or bad way, though I’m sure a line like his will elicit bad feelings in plenty of people. That line, just for the record, is .278/.309/.611, with a 2.6% walk rate and 34.2% strikeout rate. As you might surmise from the silly slugging percentage, he’s clubbed 13 home runs already this season, which would put him on pace for 52 in 600 plate appearances. True outcomes? Tyler O’Neill is a champion of truth.

Strikeouts and home runs have always gone together. Babe Ruth is the all-time true-outcome leader when compared to his era. But O’Neill kicks it into overdrive. Most sluggers use their prodigious power to get on base; they draw walks because pitchers are afraid to face them in the strike zone. O’Neill, again, is walking 2.6% of the time. That would be the worst rate in baseball if he qualified for the batting title, tied with Salvador Perez.

Nothing I’m saying here is particularly new. O’Neill’s 34.2% strikeout rate is virtually identical to his career mark. His 37.1% home run per fly ball rate will surely come down, but his career mark is 23.3%. His maximum exit velocity on the year is exactly identical to his previous career mark. Why write about him now? Read the rest of this entry »

Ben Clemens FanGraphs Chat – 6/7/21

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Goldilocks and the Three Bunts

If you’ve read a lot of my work here, you probably know that I’m a huge fan of bunting. Some bunting, at least — I’m not talking about bone-headed sacrifices at the altar of small ball. There’s just something satisfying about a well-placed bunt, pushed past the pitcher and to an open space vacated by the defense. Bunts against the shift are a delight. Bunts not against the shift, where the hitter is simply better at bunting than the defense is at defending, are great too. This article is not about one of those bunts.

On Friday night, the Dodgers were locked in a tight battle. Runs had been hard to come by against opposing starter Ian Anderson, though Julio Urías was doing his part to keep the team in the game, surrendering only a solo home run through four innings. In the top of the fifth, Urías got a chance to help the team on the offensive end as well. With runners on first and third and the game tied after a close play at the plate, he stepped up to bat with one out in the inning.

Urías isn’t a bad hitter, at least as far as pitchers go. He sports a career line of .175/.188/.190, a fair sight better than the overall .124/.143/.159 line across baseball over the course of his career. Still, he’s an awful hitter, as far as major league hitters go. Dave Roberts called for a bunt. Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It! Unique Pitching Lines Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Jordan Montgomery put together a solid outing on Wednesday night. In 6.1 innings of work, he struck out six Rays and walked only two. He did get tagged for five hits, but avoided allowing any home runs, which made the whole package work admirably. He gave up three runs, but with a little defensive prowess, things could have gone even better; two of those three were unearned.

That kind of game happens all the time these days. On the other hand, that particular game has never happened before. That exact box score line — 6.1 innings pitched, six strikeouts, two walks, five hits, no homers, one earned run and three total runs — had never occurred in the more than 380,000 starts since 1913, the first year where earned runs were recorded, as James Smyth pointed out:

I’ll level with you: I had a hard time believing Smyth at first. That line is so middle-of-the-road. Everything about it feels like a common enough occurrence. There are no truly strange parts in that score, nothing that stands out as an obviously rare feat. An easy example: Carlos Martínez also recorded a unique line on Wednesday. His was altogether stranger: 0.2 innings pitched, one strikeout, four walks, and 10 earned runs without a homer or an unearned run. That just sounds like an unprecedented start. Read the rest of this entry »

Intentionally Walking the Bases Loaded: A Primer

Mike Shildt had a decision to make. It was only the first inning, but the Brewers were all over Daniel Ponce de Leon. They’d already scored three times, and had runners on second and third for number eight hitter Luis Urías. A hit here could break the game open, so Shildt took a risk and intentionally walked Urías. With a pitcher batting next, maybe he could salvage the inning.

There was just one problem: Daniel Ponce de Leon was pitching. His 11.6% walk rate this year has actually lowered his career mark. Not only that, but he’d already walked a batter unintentionally this inning, though it’s unclear whether that’s predictive. Either way, though, whoops:

Maybe that was a strike, and maybe it wasn’t. In any case, it turned into a run, and the game eventually turned into a Brewers rout. The Cardinals scored only three runs; as it turns out, the first inning was all Milwaukee needed. Urías didn’t have a hit on the day, not that that’s a particularly telling statistic.

Normally, I’d break down the pros and cons of Shildt’s decision in minute detail. Avoiding Urías and his career .318 OBP to face a pitcher seems good. Turning a walk into a run with Ponce de Leon on the mound seems bad. It’s certainly not a slam dunk in either direction. Read the rest of this entry »

What’s Eating Francisco Lindor?

Normally, I’d write some cutesy introduction to this article, maybe regale you with a fun anecdote from my life or make a bad joke to keep the mood light. Today, there’s no time. Francisco Lindor is hitting poorly this year, and we need to get to the bottom of it.

When stars slump early in the season, it’s often easy to see a culprit. Maybe they’re swinging out of their shoes and running a huge strikeout rate. Maybe they’re victims of bad batted ball luck. Maybe they’re playing hurt. In Lindor’s case, the problem is power. Now 195 plate appearances into the season, he’s hit five doubles and four home runs. Those are both by far the worst rates of his career, and combined with a .216 BABIP, they’ve resulted in a desultory batting line.

Easy, right? Lindor stopped hitting the ball hard, so now he’s bad. Only, he’s not:

Lindor Batted Ball Metrics, 2015-21
Year Hard-Hit% Avg. EV Max EV Barrel%
2015 36.7% 89.9 110.4 3.5%
2016 33.9% 88.7 112.1 4.1%
2017 35.9% 89 111.7 7.1%
2018 40.8% 90.6 114.5 9.5%
2019 41.0% 91 113.5 7.5%
2020 41.1% 89.9 111.4 5.6%
2021 41.4% 89.6 112 5.0%

So much for the lazy analysis — and to be clear, using average exit velocity is absolutely lazy. Whatever’s going wrong, it’s more complicated than a simple power outage. Read the rest of this entry »

New York Can’t Catch a Break

You won’t find many joint Yankees/Mets fans, but if such a bizarre chimera exists, it’s been a rough few days for pitching health. On Tuesday, Noah Syndergaard made a scheduled rehab start for the St. Lucie Mets. He departed after only an inning, and he’s now been shut down for six weeks. Meanwhile, Corey Kluber made his first start since no-hitting the Rangers, only to leave after three innings. The Yankees placed Kluber on the Injured List and announced that he won’t throw for at least four weeks, with a return date still unknown.

Weird hypothetical New York fans aside, there’s an obvious link between these two situations. Both teams are suffering greatly in the wave of injuries currently sweeping baseball, and how both teams deal with the loss of their pitcher will do a lot to determine the outcome of their respective East divisions. Injury management is nothing new, but these two come at particularly pivotal times for both teams.

Syndergaard’s setback isn’t immediately devastating to the Mets. He was still likely more than a month away from returning to the major leagues, and the Mets planned around his absence. They acquired pitching in bulk this offseason; Taijuan Walker, Joey Lucchesi, Carlos Carrasco, and Jordan Yamamoto are all newcomers who the team expected to provide some coverage this season.

With Jacob deGrom looking no worse for the wear after a brief IL stint, the Mets are fine at the top of their rotation. Marcus Stroman, too, has been solid. Things dip from there — Walker, Carrasco, and Yamamoto are all on the IL, and Carrasco hasn’t pitched yet this year — but deGrom and a reasonable followup is all you need for an acceptable rotation. Walker will likely be back soon, to boot — he’s already throwing live batting practice. Read the rest of this entry »

Zack Wheeler Keeps Quietly Improving

Zack Wheeler signed a big contract before the 2020 season, and if we’re being honest, the Phillies paid for potential. That’s not to say Wheeler wasn’t an effective starter with the Mets, but his career numbers — a 3.77 ERA, a 3.71 FIP, a 22.8% strikeout rate, and an 8.5% walk rate — didn’t scream ace.

His stuff, on the other hand, spoke loudly. An upper-90s fastball and lower-90s slider invite comparisons with Jacob deGrom, and his curveball prevents batters from sitting on a single breaking ball. If you could design a pitcher in a lab — well, fine, you might come up with deGrom or Gerrit Cole. But if you ended up with Wheeler, you’d certainly be happy with your work.

When a pitcher’s results — and again, they were good results — fall short of what you’d expect from their stuff, any stretch of better outcomes feels like a tantalizing glimpse at what a breakthrough might look like. At this point, however, it’s not a glimpse: Wheeler has fully broken out into the ace the Phillies hoped for when they signed him.

Consider this: since leaving the Mets, Wheeler has the 10th-best ERA in baseball. It’s not some fluky sequencing effect, either. He has the eighth-best FIP in the game over that time frame, the 17th-best xFIP, and the 17th-best SIERA, another advanced ERA estimator. He’s done all of that while throwing the third-most innings in the game, behind only Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale. That combination of skill and volume puts him sixth among all starters in WAR over that time frame, in a virtual tie with Cole. Read the rest of this entry »