Back in 2012 when Manny Machado was still in the minors, everyone was drooling over his potential and saw him as the next generation of shortstops. Yes, how quickly we all forget Machado’s original position was shortstop. Scouts loved his plate discipline and power and envisioned someone who could hit at least 25 home runs annually. Fast forward to 2014 and Machado has 2 1/2 seasons under his belt. While he has shown he can be an asset at third, he has yet to deliver on that wow factor we’ve all been waiting for. Is this the year Machado starts to put things together? Can Machado be that top 5 third baseman we envisioned him to be?
What went right? We’ll start with the walk rate which was up slightly from the previous year. In 2014 his walk percentage was 5.6%; it was 4.1% in 2013 and 4.5% in 2012 so it is a small but positive step. This coincides with the rise in OBP which was up to .324. This is a slight increase from the .314 in 2013 and shows the continual growth as it was .294 in 2012. If Machado was older I might be discouraged with just a slight increase, but at 22 years old he is still learning so any positive step is a good one.
The power also took a positive step. Machado’s ISO went from .148 in 2013 to .153 in 2014. Neither number is close to the .183 he posted during his debut in 2012 so while there was improvements, he is capable of more. The average fly ball distance also increased 5 feet from 278.33 feet to 283.26. 283 feet put him in the same company as Joe Mauer, Jonathan Lucroy, Billy Butler and Justin Morneau which is good but doesn’t inspire hope for the future. If he can increase his distance another 5 feet in 2015 he would place on the leaderboard along side stars such as Edwin Encarnacion, Anthony Rizzo and Adam Jones. The overall home run production was better as well, but there were some negatives that will be covered below.
What went wrong? Even though he made some progress with his walks, Machado’s strikeout rate increased. In 2012 the strikeout percentage was 18.8; this wasn’t bad considering how quickly he ascended through the minors and was only slightly higher that the roughly 16.0% he posted in A and AA ball. That number went down to 15.9% his first full season in 2013, but in 2014 it took a turn for the worse and spiked to 19.2%. It wasn’t all bad as he lowered it in August to 16.3% and it was 15.1% in May, but that 20.4% in June and 26% in July show there are still some issues here.
I listed the power under positive, but one of those positives was actually a negative. Machado’s HR/FB ratio was 15%, almost double of what it was in 2013. This was a positive step, but it is also one I cannot see being sustained. 25 players had a HR/FB ratio of 15% or higher. Of those players, only 3 had a fly ball ratio below 33%. In 2013 only 7 of the 38 players with a HR/FB ratio of 15% or higher had a fly ball ratio below 33%. Manny Machado’s fly ball percentage in 2014 was 30.9%, down from 32.3% in 2013 and 39.7% in 2012. His LD% spiked from 2012 to 2013 and his GB% has slowly inched up, but the number of balls hit in the air has slowly decreased. While on the surface it appears Machado is in line for a spike in home runs, he’ll need to increase the number of fly balls in order for this to happen.
Finally we have the plate discipline. Looking at Machado’s O-Swing% (pitches swung at outside the strike zone), it was 36.1% in 2014. That’s an increase over the 32.5% in 2013 and 33.2% in 2012. It’s the same story with his O-Contact% (contact made on pitches swung at outside the strike zone). In 2014 it was 63.8%, down from 71% in 2013. Machado is swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone and making less contact. The good news is his Z-Swing% and Z-Contact% (swings and contact with pitches inside the strike zone) remained constant so if he can lay off a few bad pitches, the batting average should improve.
Machado has some good qualities and there is a lot of promise for the future. If I was in a dynasty league he would be one of the top players I would target along with Arenado and Bryant. He doesn’t turn 23 until July 6th so there is plenty of time to grow into his frame, increase his muscle mass and improve the plate discipline. Our third base dynasty rankings have Machado listed at #4 with the lowest ranking being 8th. That #8 ranking was mine, but I’m a little more pessimistic than most people when it comes to young talent despite being able to see all the advantages. This should be the last time you can acquire Machado at a discount.
For 2015 though, I have some concerns. He has shown enough instability in his walks and strikeouts that another year of growth might be in order before he steps up to that next level. The power is almost there, but he isn’t putting enough balls in the air to take advantage of it. Then there is the issue of his recent knee surgery. While Machado is progressing nicely, allegedly has a full range of motion and is on schedule to start the season on time, a lot can happen in three months. Even if he is 100% (or close to it), Joey Votto owners can tell you firsthand how a knee injury can affect a players swing and power stroke. There could be issues in the early goings and if he makes any adjustments because of this, there could be ramifications in the following months.
Then there is the issue with the lineup in Baltimore. Matt Wieters is behind Machado as far as rehab goes and it is unlikely he will be ready to begin the season in April. Nelson Cruz is gone which takes away some protection from Machado and is a big hit in the offense overall. Steve Pearce (who I wrote about last week) had a career year and will need to come close to repeating it if Baltimore is to succeed. Chris Davis fell apart (putting it mildly) and if he can’t turn things around, Machado lost another protective bat hitting behind him. Losing Nick Markakis means Baltimore has to find a new leadoff man, depending on who that is can cut into or increase Machado’s RBI totals. Jonathan Schoop is a few years away from being a viable candidate and is in store for some growing pains so don’t look here for help. Add on the J.J. Hardy struggles and Baltimore could have some major offensive issues in 2015.
If Machado is to take a step forward in 2015, it won’t be a large one. Streamer predicts a .273 average with 18 home runs, 69 RBIs, 76 runs scored and 6 stolen bases. I’ll agree with the power prediction, but I see the average being slightly higher (only a few points) with a few more runs, a few less on the RBIs and only 2 or 3 stolen bases. Given his knee injury and limited success rate on the base paths, I don’t expect many steals in 2015 and no more than a handful each year moving forward. Our early 2015 rankings have Machado ranked #10 overall with one ranking of 4, four at 11 and one at 16. Our panel of experts agrees Machado is a good player to own, just not an elite option (yet).
In his prime Machado could be as good as Ryan Zimmerman was supposed to be, hitting .285 with 25 plus home runs along with 90 or so runs and RBIs. Unfortunately it will be another year before we start seeing that Manny Machado. That doesn’t make him a bad target for 2015, but it does if you put his value over where it should be and take him too early.