25 September 2012

Was Promoting Manny Machado the Right Move for 2012?

Despite his top prospect status, I don't think the expectations for what Manny Machado would do in an Orioles' uniform this season were all that high. With Wilson Betemit on the DL though, the team need a third-baseman and decided to call up the 20 year-old from Double-A to fill in.

Machado started out well, hitting 3 home runs in his first 4 games, but since then has hit just .254/.267/.345 in 147 plate appearances (36 games). A 31 to 3 strike-out to walk ratio (overall) just isn't going to get it done in the Majors, but you don't need to be a plus hitter when you can handle the glove-work. As a shortstop, Machado unsurprisingly has solidified the hot corner for the O's - he's the only player with a positive UZR at the position this year (+3 runs), and is a big improvement over the likes of Betemit (-6 UZR) or Mark Reynolds (-5 UZR).

And even though the offensive production isn't there, given the alternatives it's still decent. Machado's .302 wOBA has translated into -2.2 runs relative to average in his 163 PA. Without Manny, the O's would have potentially had to go with a combination of Robert Andino, Omar Quintanilla, and Ryan Flaherty at third. The way they've hit this year, those three guys are at around -7, -3, and -6 runs in 163 PA, respectively. Combine that with losing some bench flexibility and potential platoon opportunities, and it seems fair to say that Machado has provided the team with upwards of 5 runs with the bat over what they would have otherwise been getting. With how close the AL East (and Wild Card) might be, that is certainly relevant.

Even if you ignore his hot start and assume he hit .254/.267/.345 all year, he'd still be a little above replacement level as a player; he's at +0.7 fWAR with -2.2 batting runs, so that translates into +0.2 fWAR with -7 batting runs with that triple slash. And that -7 batting runs is about what Andino would be expected to do over the same time period, so even the "slumping" Manny Machado doesn't really cost the Orioles anything.

More generally, this is probably good experience for Machado. He's holding his own in the big leagues despite not even getting a full year at Double-A. The lack of walks is a problem, but he hasn't been a complete hacker - he's swinging at pitches out of the strike-zone only slightly more often than league average (according to FanGraphs). Pitchers are pounding the zone against him though, and he's swinging and missing a fair bit. Still, there's enough positive signs to feel good about what Machado will be able to do in the near future - and, though scouting isn't my thing, he sure looks good out there.


Philip said...

Your last sentence..."he looks GOOD out there."
Is Machado in a nutshell.
He is a delight to watch, and he's made some tremendously long, fast accurate throws to first.
His hitting is ordinary, but Markakis was the only guy in the lineup approaching .300, so that's fine.

I have a question:
Is his actual offense in line with his predicted offense?
Is a high strikeout ratio "fixable" or is that just the type of hitter he'll be?
A .260 hitter with that defense is about what Elvis Andrus gives the Rangers, and I'd take that any day.

Jon Shepherd said...

Machado is young and has always been average to above average with his walks in the minors. It could be that he needs to further develop his skills. I doubt he is fully baked.

Second...batting average means something, but you also have to consider walk rate and power. Manny has shown some of the latter, but he needs to up his meaningful contact and/or walk more.

Matt P said...

In retrospect, it seems like it was the right choice. The Os have an excellent shot of at least playing in the wild card game and one has to wonder if they are in that position without Machado.

The only question I would ask is what this means for 2013. If Machado is penned in as the starting third baseman for 2013, then that may make this decision backfire. Machado couldn't hit righties in AA. While defensively he's ready for the bigs, he sure isn't ready offensively. If he's kept in the majors and doesn't progress, this stint could be bad news.

He's a natural. That's why he's surviving in the majors despite not being ready. I'd just like him to get the seasoning he needs so that he'll be able to be a star instead of someone who never reaches his potential.

But they're fighting for a playoff spot. Can't argue with trying to win with him this year and then letting next year take care of itself.

Daniel Moroz said...

Machado's K's aren't that bad - the poor K/BB is driven more by the lack of walks. He might always strike out more than a "traditional" shortstop, but that's not a big deal at all if he hits for some power (which I think he will).

And I think he'll eventually get the walks up enough to be plus with the bat, while also solid with the glove.