13 June 2013

Manny Machado and Turning Present Doubles into Future Home Runs

by Nate Delong
Delong writes about the Orioles over at Orioles Proving Ground. He is part of 2013's Expanded Roster, a feature where we provide local writers opportunities to expand their reach.  Click here to find all of Camden Depot's Expanded Roster entries for 2012.  2011 Expanded Roster items can be found here.  As always, feel free to provide the Depot with suggestions for posts or with your own interest in writing an items or several to be posted here. 

It is no secret that Manny Machado is having a nice start to his season.  Coming into 2013, everyone knew that he would provide great defense at the hot corner, but the amount of production he would provide at the plate was not nearly as certain.  However, that doesn’t mean that people thought he would be a BAD at the plate in 2013.  Talent evaluators across the board agree that Machado has the chance to become a special hitter during his career, although some didn’t expect it to happen this quickly (and at the risk of calling myself a talent evaluator, I didn’t think it would happen this quickly either).  

While Machado may be the benefactor of some good luck (I promise I won’t talk about luck…much), the results don’t lie.  Through June 10, Machado has a triple slash line of .316/.352/.484 (AVG/OBP/SLG), and .361 wOBA.  Add that to his defensive contributions, and 'baby, you've got a stew going,' along with a 3.1 WAR (according to Fangraphs), good for 8th best in baseball.  While he has hit only 5 home runs to date, he leads the league in doubles with 27, six more than Gerardo Parra, who is currently in second place.

And that brings us to the point.  Is there anything about Machado or his season that indicates some of those doubles may turn into home runs in the future?  It is generally believed that as a hitter matures and gets stronger, doubles will become home runs. The Orioles organization knows that this is not necessarily true.  Brian Roberts hit an average of just over 46 doubles per year from 2004 to 2009, but only hit an average of 11.5 home runs over the same time period.  While it may not be fair to compare Roberts and Machado (Roberts being much smaller), Nick Markakis (only an inch shorter than Machado) had the same experience, as his consistent doubles power never really transitioned to consistent home run power.  Excluding an injury shortened 2012, Markakis has averaged almost 40 doubles per season, but only about 17 home runs per season, topping out at 23 way back in 2007. 

Camden Depot covered his declining power numbers last month.  However, both of those players were not as young as Machado when they broke into the majors, so let’s see if we can find players who hit a lot of doubles at a very young age, and see how they turned out. 

According to Dave Szymborski’s ZIPS projection system at Fangraphs, Machado will finish the season with 49 doubles.  Based on that, let’s take a look at players who have hit at least 40 doubles through their age 22 season since 1961 (Machado is currently playing his age 20 season, but I added a couple years to increase the sample size).  Remember, these are raw statistics, so they are not adjusted for run environment or park factor.

A couple of notes on the table above:

  • If Machado eventually hits at least 40 doubles this season, he’d join some pretty good company
  • 2 of the 18 seasons listed above, only Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Bench, and Cesar Cedeno hit 40 more doubles in their age 20 season
  •  ZIPS predicts that Machado will finish this season with 15 home runs.  While most player seasons above showed more present home run power than ZIPS expects from Machado this year, he is also one or two years younger, with only A-Rod’s 1996 home run total higher than ZIPS projection for Machado (for age 20 seasons)

With regards to career home runs, Gregg Jefferies, Cesar Cedeno, and Ben Grieve are the names that really stick out on this list (most of the active players have plenty of time to add to their career home run totals).  Jefferies played 14 years, and while he had some decent years, he never really hit for much power overall, and he finished his career with a .421 slugging percentage.  Grieve on the other hand had a great start to his career by hitting 55 of his career 118 home runs in his age 23 and 24 season, but he fell apart quickly afterwards and was out of baseball completely before the age of 30.  Finally, Cedeno hit over 20 home runs in each of his age 21-23 seasons, but could never reach that level again, finishing his 17-year career with 199.

That last paragraph is admittedly a little depressing, so let’s get back to Machado.  Here’s how his batted ball statistics compare to the MLB averages.

Machado is hitting more groundballs and less fly balls than you’d normally want from someone with so much power potential.  Fortunately, those groundballs seem to be finding holes (BABIP is well above league average).  Unfortunately, the fly balls he hits are not clearing the fences as much as the rest of the league (HR/FB ratio well below league average).  Both of these are likely a function of some luck, however, HR/FB ratio tends to stabilize somewhere around 300 PA’s, and Machado has walked to the plate 294 times this year (as of June 10).  The focus of this table though should be on Machado’s above average line drive rate.  This indicates that he has no trouble making quality contact against major league pitching, and squares up the ball better than the average hitter, which should correlate with a higher batting average and slugging percentage.  For a player that’s not even old enough to drink, that’s impressive.  And since LD% tends to stabilize around 150 PA’s, we can safely say that Machado’s LD% is likely not a function of luck.  To put this into perspective, the only other players in the major leagues age 21 or younger with at least 150 PA’s this season are Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, both of whom have LD% lower than Machado’s.  It’s true.  Look it up.

I recently went back and viewed all of Machado’s doubles using the magic of MLB TV, and there certainly doesn’t seem to be much luck involved, as all but 2 of them were hit hard.  Take a look at the figure below, which shows the hit location for each of Machado’s doubles, along with the batted ball classification.  

Three things stick out from this figure.  The first is that 21 of Machado’s 27 doubles have come from line drives or fly balls (78%), reinforcing the fact that he his making quality contact on his doubles.  Second, while all 5 of Machado’s home runs have been pulled into the left field seats, the figure shows his ability to drive a baseball to all fields, which not only suggests he can turn on an inside pitch, but also drive a pitch on the outside part of the plate to the opposite field.  As he gets stronger, some of those opposite field doubles (specifically in the gap) should carry into the stands.  Third, at least 4 of these doubles (on or past the “hypothetical” wall) could have just as easily been home runs in certain ballparks or weather conditions. 

So far in his young career, Manny Machado has exceeded just about everyone’s expectations with his bat, and the Orioles front office (as well as the fans) have to be thrilled to have such a gifted young player for years to come.  Based on what’s been discussed, along with the belief that Machado will only get stronger, it’s easy to dream of Machado matching (and/or exceeding) the career numbers of the more prominent names in the table above, and he definitely has the potential to do that.   However, it’s important to remember that Machado is still young, and his path to that potential is not guaranteed.  It will take continued hard work, and adjustment after adjustment.  I believe he has it in him to get there, but until he does, I will thoroughly enjoy watching him spray line drives all over the field, collecting as many doubles as possible.

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