Manny Machado had a tough weekend. He first got into a tiff with John Donaldson after being tagged out on Friday. Next on Sunday he got ejected from the game after "losing control of his bat" after nearly being hit by a pitch. All in all, it's not surprising that Ken Rosenthal expects Manny to be suspended and that Manny apologized to his fellow teammates, the fans and the entire Athletics team on Monday.
Manny hasn't just had a tough weekend though as he has also had a tough season. After suffering an injury last year, he was unable to play for the Orioles until May 1st or after 26 games. He's now healthy but he hasn't been very effective. Manny had an absolutely amazing season defensively last year. Manny's defense was worth 33.6 runs last year according to Fangraphs defense metric. This was the highest defense rating since 1999 for any major league player and the eighth best rating for a third baseman since 1948. This year his defense has only been worth .9 runs and it's easy to see why. After having just 13 errors in nearly 1400 innings last year he has already had 7 errors in 300 innings. According to the Inside Edge Fielding Data on Fangraphs he has failed to convert a number of routine and likely plays. While he has made a number of excellent defensive plays it is clear that he's not quite in top form.
He also has struggled offensively. Last year he put had a .283/.314/.432 line with a wRC+ of 101. This year he has had only a .235/.291/.346 line with a wRC+ of 75. Last year his offense was league average but this year his offense has been poor. While his plate discipline has improved from last year he is also hitting more ground balls than he did a year ago which has resulted in fewer doubles. As a result, Machado hit 51 doubles last year but has only hit 3 so far this year.
The Orioles have only played 61 games as of Monday while Machado has only played in 34 so there is plenty of time for him to turn things around. But if this continues then Machado will have regressed significantly this year from last year. If so, this would be interesting because Machado was only 20 last year and is only 21 this year. Normally we expect players to be better when they are 21 than when they are 20. I was curious to see whether there actually is a change and if so how large.
From 1975 to 2014 there have been forty players that had 150 plate appearances or more in the majors in their age 20 season as defined by Fangraphs. For these forty players I calculated the mean wOBA, wRC+, fWAR and an adjusted 600 Plate Appearance fWAR. A problem with using WAR by itself to compare players of different ages is that older players receive more playing time. The average player in this sample had only 431 plate appearances when he was 20 but 530 plate appearances when he was 21, 520 appearances when he was 22 and 552 appearances when he was 23. Since players with more playing time have a higher WAR it makes sense to normalize it by plate appearances to ensure that we're not giving older players an advantage because they had more playing time. To do this, I simply divide the average WAR by the average PAs for each age group and multiply by 600. The following chart shows the averages:
This chart shows that once plate appearances are taken into account the average twenty year old position player does improve offensively when he turns 21 while regressing defensively on average. There is more improvement when a player turns 22 primarily from defense and there is significant offensive improvement when a player turns 23.
The next thing that I did was determine the number of players that improved when they turned 21 versus the number of players that regressed when they turned 21. Four of the forty players in the sample had fewer than 150 plate appearances when they were 21. Of the thirty six players that had 150 or more plate appearances when they were 20 and 21, fourteen had a better year when they were 20 while twenty-two had a better year when they were 21.
Jason Heyward was one of the players that had a severe sophomore slump. When he was 20 he put up a 134 wRC+ but when he was 21 he only had a 97 wRC+. He bounced back with strong years when he was 22 and 23. But perhaps the most similar player was Jose Reyes. Jose Reyes had a wRC+ of 102 when he was 20 but only a wRC+ of 64 when he was 21.
It is normal for players to improve upon their age 20 season when they turn 21. But it isn't unheard of for players to regress and even players that do regress have good careers. It is highly unlikely that anyone would really complain if Manny Machado turns into a player like Jose Reyes or Jason Heyward.
Manny has had a tough season so far and just had an even tougher weekend. He'll need to work hard to regain his place as a star. Fortunately, he has plenty of time this year to make up for some of his mistakes and make this a more successful year. Even if he doesn't there have been other players that made it to the majors when they were 20, struggled in their sophomore year and still gone on to have successful careers.