Manny Machado: A Top 5 3B in 2014

It may seem cliché but fantasy leagues are not won in the first 4 rounds, they are won in the middle and end of the draft.  Generally, it doesn’t matter if you decide to select Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout with your number one pick, just a matter of preference.  What matters is if you are in the sly owner who decided to pick Chris Davis over Mark Reynolds. Or maybe you grabbed Matt Harvey a round or two before anyone else tried to.  With that in mind, let’s look at Baltimore Orioles 3B Manny Machado, a virtual lock to be a top 5 3B in 2014.

Heading into 2013, you would have to scroll pretty far down the list of 3B-eligible players to find Manny Machado’s name.  While the top 4 was a collection of the usual suspects (Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria) in some order, what followed was a pick your poison collection of budding young superstars (Brett Lawrie, Ryan Zimmerman), consistent veterans (Aramis Ramirez, Martin Prado) and fluctuating producers (Hanley Ramirez, Chase Headley, Pablo Sandoval).  Machado was in the 15-20 range, with the likes of other young 3B Will Middlebrooks, Mike Moustakas, Pedro Alvarez and aging veterans Michael Young and Kevin Youkilis.

Taking a glance at the ESPN Player Rater for 3B, Machado finished the season at #10, ahead of Pablo Sandoval and Pedro Alvarez, but still behind Longoria and Zimmerman.  Obviously Machado’s final stats were impacted by his late season injury, and his recovery will cloud his offseason value.  In a standard keeper league, I consider Machado a certain keeper this season.  Heading into 2014, I see him as a top 5 3B candidate.  So, where should you be selecting him and what should you expect from him next season?

Batting average
Through 667 plate appearances in 2013, Machado batted a respectable 0.283.  This translates to approximately 20 points higher than his minor league average.  The inflation is partially due to an increase in his batting average on balls in play (a robust 0.322).  The MLB average for BABIP hovers between 0.290 and 0.310, with elite players like Miguel Cabrera hitting a ridiculous 0.356 BABIP.  Should a downward correction be expected?  If Machado can improve his plate discipline and take some more walks, currently he walks only 4% of his plate appearances, then I think he should be counted on to bat in the 0.280 range.

Runs Scored
A lot of this has to do with the lineup you are placed in, and Machado is a productive lineup.  The Baltimore Orioles are currently the 3rd highest scoring team in the American League (657 runs, trailing only the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers).  That translates to 4.72 runs per game, giving Machado plenty of opportunities to score.  With thumpers Adam Jones and Chris Davis to drive him in, Machado is in line to score 90-100 runs a season.  He scored 88 runs in 2013.

Homeruns and RBI’s
Machado hit 14 homers which rate as his highest single season total at any level of professional baseball.  I am not going to jump out and say that he can have seasons like Miguel Cabrera or Adrian Beltre, but I do think Machado is a legit 20-25 HR/season player.  This year he had 51 doubles, second only to Cardinals Matt Carpenter for most in the majors.  At 21 years old, conventional wisdom says that his best power seasons are still to come.  By increasing his fly-ball rate from its current level of 32%, this should increase his HR/FB ratio, which currently sits under 8.5.  If 10% of his doubles translate into homeruns, he will eclipse 20 homeruns next season.

Manny drove in 71 runs this season, placing him 9th among third basemen.  Again, this is driven in part by being in a productive lineup.  Additionally, he is batting 0.300 with runners on base, and 0.339 with runners in scoring position, driving in 54 of those runners.

Even with runners in scoring position and 2 outs (a clutch situation), Machado is hitting 0.315 and has 23 RBI’s.

Stolen Bases
Machado is not a base stealer, which will limit his value in a rotisserie-style league.  In 2013 he has 6 steals, but was caught 7 times (also a deterrent in points leagues that punish for caught stealings).  However, a look at other 3B-eligible players, show that his 6 steals have him in a tie for 11th overall, with David Wright leading the way with 17 steals.  Certainly an improvement in his techniques could yield 10-12 steals per season.

So where am I selecting him?
Looking at 3B for 2014, it is Miguel Cabrera once again in a tier of his own.  Depending on your league position eligibility requirements, the second tier fills up with David Wright, Edwin Encarnacion (has started 9 games at 3B this year) and Adrian Beltre.  I think the decision of who to pick next comes down to Evan Longoria, Hanley Ramirez (who may only qualify at SS in your league) and Manny Machado.  In a keeper league, I go with Machado, because he has more productive seasons left.  If you think he takes a step forward to hitting 20 homers and stealing 12 bases, I think you can take him as the 5th 3B.

Obviously Miguel Cabrera will cost you a first round pick, and I see Adrian Beltre being selected in round one as well.  Then I see David Wright and possibly Evan Longoria going off the board in rounds 2 and 3.  Depending on his recovery, owners may be scared away from Machado, leaning towards Josh Donaldson or Ryan Zimmerman, which could mean you can grab him in round 4-5, allowing you to focus on other positions ahead of selecting him and still ending up with a top 5 player at an important position.