Manny Machado has had quite a season so far. He’s always been excellent defensively, but his offensive progression has continued. From 2012-2014, he was just average offensively. But in 2015, he took some real strides as he put up a .286/.359/.502 line for a wRC+ of 134. This year, he has a .333/.387/.653 line with a wRC+ of 181 while playing shortstop. It’s arguable that he’s been the best player in baseball so far. All in all, it’s possible he’s having a better season than Barry Bonds Bryce Harper down in Washington.
All of this got Patrick, Jon and I wondering. It’s pretty clear that Manny is adequate in a thirty team league. How good would he be in a smaller league with only eight teams? Would his performance still be as impressive?
In order to test this, I looked at every players performance from 2013-2016 and determined the best 111 hitters (turns out I included Derek Norris twice on my list) with at least 8 hitters at each position. I also determined the best 48 starting pitchers over this period and 64 relievers. The way I determined the best players over this period consisted of a bit of looking at WAR, a bit of looking at stats like wRC+ and FIP and a bit of using my own judgement. A list of the players I used can be found here (teams were determined largely at random). They probably aren’t perfect, but are close enough.
Next, I determined their wOBA from 2013-2016 against pitchers on this list and pitchers that aren’t on this list. I did this using Pitch f/x data from April-Sept in 2013, 2014 and 2015 as well as 2016 data up until May 13th. This gives me an idea how these batters performed against both the pitching they would face in an eight team league and also how they perform against pitchers that don’t make the cut. The batters that do poorly against the best pitchers likely wouldn’t be successful in a league with eight teams.
Machado has a good, but not great wOBA against the best pitchers in the league at .348. According to Fangraphs’ rule of thumb, this is above average but not great. But he also ranks 94th out of 111 batters on this list. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that it’s difficult to perform well against the best pitchers.
Indeed, there are relatively few batters on this list that are great against the best pitchers. Jose Bautista, Mike Trout, Jose Abreu and Joey Votto all have a wOBA above .370 against these pitchers, but lower than .400. Miguel Cabrera demonstrates why he’s worth the big bucks as he has a .409 wOBA against the best pitchers and .417 against all of the other pitchers. It doesn’t appear to matter whether the pitcher is good or not, because he’ll still crush them.
Other players like Ender Inciarte, Ben Zobrist, Martin Prado and Kevin Kiermaier have below average numbers against the other pitchers but are effective against the best pitchers. This suggests that such batters may do better than expected in an eight team league and may be useful pieces to add for the playoffs.
Also, there are a number of players that do well against bad pitchers, but poorly against the best pitchers. Randal Grichuk and Jackie Bradley Jr. have worse numbers against the best pitchers then Camden Depot favorite David Lough. Mookie Betts has a .393 wOBA against other pitchers, but only a .269 against the best pitchers, suggesting that the Red Sox may want to hold off on a contract extension for him. Dexter Fowler, Baltimore’s favorite villain, has a .380 wOBA against bad pitching (80th out of 111) but only a .280 against good pitching (15th). Bryce Harper has the best numbers in the sample against other pitching (.436 wOBA) but only a .326 wOBA against the best pitching (69th). That’s something to keep in mind the next time the Nationals choke in the playoffs.
Of course, Manny was mostly average offensively in 2013 and 2014. The chart below shows how he’s done each year. I didn’t rank him each year, but it’s worth noting that his performance has been roughly consistent regardless of whether he’s faced good pitching or bad pitching. This suggests that he’s highly dangerous against pitchers regardless of whether they’re the best or not. Also, a wOBA of .377 against the best pitchers puts him in the rare elite with just the best players if he can maintain that. In retrospect, these numbers suggest that Manny was primed for a breakout in 2015. It also suggests he might be a top five offensive player.
On the whole, many Orioles players are able to perform well against good pitching. Adam Jones was only about average against both good pitching and other pitching. That’s not bad for a center fielder in an eight team league. Jonathan Schoop is terrible against both bad and good pitching, but is ranked 24th against the best pitchers. It is reasonable to presume that his numbers are skewed, but it’s hard to tell whether it’s due to his poor 2014 or good 2015. Mark Trumbo has a .340 wOBA against the other pitchers and a .320 wOBA against good pitchers suggesting that he isn’t going to struggle against the best pitchers.
On the other hand, both Wieters and Reimold have shown signs of struggling against the best pitchers. Wieters has a .331 wOBA against other pitchers, but only a .285 against the best pitchers. Reimold has a .326 wOBA against other pitchers and a .285 against the best pitchers. Reimold also has a high K% rate against the best pitchers, suggesting that he’s not a good option in those situations.
But the biggest worry is Chris Davis. Davis ranks 107th out of 111 batters against the other pitchers but has only a .307 wOBA (39th out of 111) against the best pitching. His home run rate is twice as high against the other pitchers as it is against the best pitchers. Davis seems to struggle against the best pitchers and therefore unsurprisingly has a .224 wOBA in the postseason in a small sample of only 26 PAs. Davis seems to be a player that will get you to the playoffs, but isn’t going to lead you to a world series.
As for Manny, it’s pretty clear that he’d be good in an eight team league or even a four team league. Top ten players usually are pretty valuable regardless of the number of teams. In an eight team league, his wOBA+ is roughly 110 or his bat is worth 8 runs. If he’s able to maintain his 2015 numbers, then his wOBA+ should probably be around 120-125 and his value with the bat will be worth maybe 15 to 16 runs. Considering his elite defense at either shortstop or third base, we’re probably talking about a 4 to 5 win player in just an eight team league. That’s pretty good. You could contract 22 teams and he’d still be a star.
It seems fair to say that Manny is one of the best players in the league. That’s probably true regardless of the league’s size. The Orioles should be glad they have him and be excited about his future.