15 October 2013

Making the Orioles a 2014 Champion: Third Base and Manny Machado

This post is part of the Making the Orioles a Champion in 2014 Series.  Below you will find links to the other articles.  We will do our best to make sure the links go live with each new update.
C | 1B | 2B (1, 2) | 3B | SS | LFCF | RF | DH | Bench | SP (1, 2) | RHRP | LHRP | Conclusion

The 2013 season for Manny Machado was one that ended in almost catastrophic fashion, with a knee injury completing the third baseman's season a little prematurely. However, the drastic fashion in which Machado bid farewell to 2013 fell short of dampening not only the spirits of future fortunes for the team at the hot corner, but also Machado's ever tightening grip on team and league records for productivity at the position.

Looking Back

Like any forecast, we must first look to the past to get a better indication of the season Machado had for the Orioles in order to properly contextualize all that he has done in such short order in his professional career. First, let's take a look at where Machado's productivity -- measured by FanGraphs version of Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) -- places him against past third baseman for the Orioles. I took the liberty of only including the years played in Baltimore where the lion's share of games were played at third base for a given season for this table:

Player Seasons at 3B Cum. fWAR Avg. fWAR
Brooks Robinson 23 80.2 3.5
Doug DeCinces 8 22.4 2.5
Cal Ripken, Jr. 6 6.9 1.4
Melvin Mora 6 16.9 2.8
Manny Machado 2 7.5 3.8

While his tenure is brief compared to his Bird brethren at the hot corner, Machado has already displayed a panache for above average play, already in Brooks Robinson territory as far as average WAR is concerned. Looking at it from a season's perspective, Machado's 2013 ranks sixth all-time in Baltimore Orioles history for third baseman:

Year Name OPS wOBA wRC+ WAR
1964 Brooks Robinson 0.889 0.384 145 8.1
1967 Brooks Robinson 0.762 0.338 123 7.6
1968 Brooks Robinson 0.72 0.322 116 7.1
1978 Doug DeCinces 0.872 0.388 149 6.6
1962 Brooks Robinson 0.828 0.361 122 6.3
2013 Manny Machado 0.746 0.325 101 6.2
2004 Melvin Mora 0.981 0.421 159 6
1971 Brooks Robinson 0.754 0.340 113 5.8
1965 Brooks Robinson 0.796 0.350 126 5.2
1974 Brooks Robinson 0.727 0.330 112 5

With the brief historical reflection out of the way, let's jump into how Machado's 2013 compared to his contemporaries with the table below; on top of some offensive stats, I have also included two defensive metrics, Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR/150):

Name Team OPS wOBA wRC+ WAR DRS UZR/150
Josh Donaldson Athletics 0.883 0.384 148 7.7 11 11.1
Miguel Cabrera Tigers 1.078 0.455 192 7.6 -18 -19.9
Evan Longoria Rays 0.841 0.360 133 6.8 12 16.2
Manny Machado Orioles 0.746 0.325 101 6.2 35 31.8
Adrian Beltre Rangers 0.880 0.379 135 5.2 -5 -1.4
Chase Headley Padres 0.747 0.330 113 3.6 5 8.2
Kyle Seager Mariners 0.764 0.337 113 3.4 -8 -3.2
Todd Frazier Reds 0.721 0.319 100 3.3 5 13.3
Pedro Alvarez Pirates 0.769 0.330 111 3.1 3 -0.4
Ryan Zimmerman Nationals 0.809 0.353 125 3.0 -1 -14.9
We see that Machado was no slouch with the bat in 2013 compared to such position luminaries and possible MVP candidates as Miguel Cabrera and Josh Donaldson; however, any discussion of Machado's productivity must include his glove work, another place where he can be compared favorably to Brooks Robinson. While DRS and UZR/150 don't allow us to directly compare Robinson to Machado, they do still provide a glimpse at how important and spectacular Machado's defense was at third base last season and in comparison to fellow third baseman of the past decade. With a DRS of 35, Machado led all MLB third baseman, while also leading all Orioles in the stat, regardless of position, besting Nick Markakis' 22 DRS in 2008 by a significant margin. This was also the fourth highest DRS ever posted by a player since the stat was collected, with the top three scores coming in 2013 as well. Alternatively, Machado's UZR/150 was second in 2013 only to Juan Uribe's 35.3 for third baseman, ranking as the seventh-best score since the stat was collected, regardless of position, and again dwarfing the previous Orioles record, held by Corey Patterson, with a 19.1 UZR/150 in 2006. As the previous table described, Machado's offense, while respectable, does show room for improvement -- middle of the pack power numbers for his position to go with similarly middle of the pack line drive (20.6%, tied for 14th for 3B) and home run per fly ball rates (7.9%, 17th for 3B) speak to where the deficiencies lie in Machado's game. While his stroke did propel Machado to accumulating an AL best 51 doubles in 2013, it did show some holes, in particular, against breaking pitches:

As shown in this Brooks Baseball zone profile, Machado struggled with breaking pitches down and away, whiffing at close to 30% of these offerings. However, with youth comes youthful indiscretions, particularly when it comes to pitch recognition; as Machado matures, so will the swing, both as a result of his physical development and the development of his baseball acumen.  

Moving Forward

Discussion of the 2014 prospects of third base for Baltimore and Machado in general all hinge upon his return from knee injury, which we have discussed here at Camden Depot previously here and here. While somewhat gruesome visually, the injury to his medial patellofemoral ligament is one that should not affect him long term, even more so now that Machado has elected to have surgery performed to repair the ligament in lieu of rest and rehabilitation. While the more conservative approach does have its merits, having the elective surgery now versus later in the future alleviates much of the uncertainty revolving around possibly re-injury of the knee and ligament. In light of the news that Machado's recovery time will be closer to six months than four months, with the possibility of missing the first couple of weeks of the regular season strong, the third base position still remains well cemented for 2014, barring any major setbacks in rehabilitation and recovery. With this assumption of the procedure and rehab is as straightforward and uneventful as has been prognosticated, look for Machado to pick up where he left off in 2013, providing elite defense and a steady bat, with the potential for a 20+ home run season a small, but distinct possibility as he develops and continues to define his strike zone.  

Other Options

Regardless of the ramifications of the offseason surgery, Baltimore is still well set internally with regards to their other third base options, should Machado stumble out of the blocks early in the season or simply needs a day off on occasion due to concerns with the knee. Ryan Flaherty, while primarily seen as a second baseman, can and has played third base for the team, having action at the position in seven games in 2013. Another option at the hot corner lies in Danny Valencia; given Valencia's allergy to leather, his future with the team should remain as a designated hitter. While his time at third has been limited and is more distant in the past compared to Flaherty's, rookie Jonathan Schoop does have some experience at third; an occasional start in place of Machado might be an interesting way of getting Schoop's bat into the lineup should his prospects at second be limited. Looking beyond the organization, the free agency pool is a tad shallow, with only older, injury prone or bench-destined players available at the position. Given Machado's injury not being as devastating as originally thought, the combination of his certain return in time for spring training along with his talent level and contract status, as well as the in-house options to spell Machado when the need arises, the pursuit of a free agent with third base repetitions in mind is probably unnecessary.

What to Do in 2014 

  In spite of the most recent memories of Machado being ones involving stretchers and unnatural stretching of his body, the Orioles should stand pat with the current makeup of the roster with respect to third base. Machado is a rare talent that has the potential to be the cornerstone of the franchise in 2014 and beyond. As previously discussed, his stardom and trajectory lie in the same constellation as Brooks Robinson and in spite of the knee woes, he should continue to build upon the foundation of superb defense and timely hitting with occasional pop for the foreseeable future.

Courtesy of @OriolesGIFs

Data courtesy of FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball

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