I’ve seen a lot of assumptions around BCB about the infield defense of Madrigal and Hoerner. I’m confused by this and would love to see people unpack these assumptions a bit more.
It’s well established that Hoerner is a borderline elite second baseman, with a shortstop pedigree. It could be that he’ll never be an elite shortstop, especially in comparison to Javy and Addision Russell. There are certainly those detractors who would criticize his arm strength. But he has decent range and sure hands. As a prospect, Fangraphs described him as someone for whom "it seemed reasonable to hope that he could pass as a shortstop by simply making all the routine plays, plus a few based on his level of effort." Fangraphs’ DRS backs up this assessment. He has been worth exactly 0 DRS as a SS in 298.1 Major League innings.
Baseball Savant’s Outs above average like Nico at SS way better though. Since 2019, Statcast has Nico making 153 attempts at Short. He has a 69% success rate on those attempts, and an estimated 5% "success rate added". It’s a small sample, but that rate would tie Andrelton Simmons and Francisco Lindor for the best in the league. What’s more, Nico has been effective going to his right, logging 4 outs above average on balls between short and 3rd. This seems to show some doubt regarding the assumption that Nico lacks the arm strength to be a plausible regular at shortstop.
The assumption that Nick Madrigal is a bad defensive second baseman confuses me even more. Madrigal also comes with a great reputation as a defender. He won an MILB gold glove in 2019, earned a 60 FV grading for his defense by Fangraphs, and Eric Longenhagen said this about him before the 2020 season: "he has some of the fastest hands I’ve seen around the bag, and he’s going to steal outs because of how quickly he turns feeds from Tim Anderson around to first base."
It should definitely be acknowledged that Madrigal had a rough start in his first couple of stints at second with the White Sox. Check out what Beyond the Box Score said about him in April 2019: "The defense, however, has been absent early on. It’s a strange situation that almost seems like a mild case of the yips. While he’s only been tagged with one error this year, which was a throwing error on Opening Day, he’s had multiple instances of bobbles or misplays. He’s already at a DRS of -3 this early in the season."
Despite the bobbles and miscues, statcast has liked Madrigal’s SSS defense at second too so far. 72% success rate, 1% estimated success rate added, 2 OAA. Despite the -4 DRS (he lost one more defensive run after the Beyond The Box Score article) he put up a slightly positive UZR in 2021 at second.
Defensive stats are tricky. They’re even more subject to sampling issues and variance than offensive numbers. I don’t know for sure how either of these guys would do as an MI tandem. Would it be great to add a platinum glove winner like Carlos Correa at Short? Of course. But I also can see quite a bit of reason for optimism regarding both Nico and Nick as defensive middle infielders.