On July 30, 2021, the Chicago Cubs made a trade with their crosstown rivals on the South Side and sent their star closer Craig Kimbrel away in return for two major league-ready players: pitcher Codi Heuer and infielder Nick Madrigal.
Heuer has dealt with a myriad of long-term injury issues. Madrigal has dealt with hamstring injuries that have been viewed as less serious due to the duration he's been held out, but their impacts have lingered.
Madrigal’s issues at the plate became so prevalent in 2023 that he was sent down to AAA for a stint last season before returning as a third base option off the bench for a Cubs team that was playing a .205 batting Patrick Wisdom most days.
This season may be different though.
I’m not going to sugar coat it. Madrigal does some things well and other things… not so well.
He’s never going to be a guy like Jose Altuve who somehow produces 20 homers from his diminutive frame. He’s never going to win a Gold Glove at third base (or likely anywhere else on the diamond). However, he was likely a lot better last season than his luck showed on the stat sheet.
Madrigal was demoted at the end of May last season after hitting .208/.240/.229 in the month.
He then proceeded to dismantle AAA pitching and got called back up to the majors where he turned in a month of .340/.426/.472 for June. He has that in him.
Unfortunately, in July the hamstring problems that ailed him in years passed reared their ugly heads and he only played in five games that month before ending the season disappointingly from August onward.
So why should we be more interested in his month of June than we are in the rest of his season (or multiple previous seasons)?
The answer for Madrigal is his health, specifically the health of his hamstrings.
When you watch the Cubs play, Madrigal is a guy that tends to hit a lot of balls on the ground but he puts pressure on the defense because he runs so hard to first base. You can see a direct correlation between his hamstring health and his results in the form of his BABIP.
BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is considered by many to be luck. Basically, are you able to hit the ball to where the defenders aren’t or are you getting unlucky and putting a ball in play right at a defender. For a lot of hitters that may be reasonable, but for someone like Madrigal who is almost always going to hit it at a defender, his ability to leg it out is going to be of paramount importance.
In that June where he was raking he had a BABIP of .370.
In the May that got him demoted it was .238 and in the last two months of the season it was .239.
It’s easy to look at the .370 and say that he just got lucky, but I prefer to look at the other months and think that he was hurt.
If Madrigal is healthy coming into 2024, he could very easily be an X Factor for the Cubs this season and help them get to the playoffs for the first time since 2020.