Manny Machado does so many fantastic things on a baseball diamond night in and night out that it's hard to keep track. If you're not paying close attention, you may very well miss a spectacular play at any point - whether Machado is playing shortstop or third base, or if he's standing at the plate.
Unfortunately, if Machado is on the basepaths, you might miss something not quite as spectacular. He's made at least several questionable baserunning decisions this season, which is peculiar for one of the very best players in the game.
All things considered, Machado might just be the best third baseman or shortstop in the game. He's clearly the best who can play both positions. So these baserunning mistakes are certainly not ideal, but when combined with everything else that Machado brings to the table, this may appear to be nit-picking. But I'm not really even doing that; I'm just taking a closer look at some bizarre decisions when he's on base. It also shouldn't take long to notice a theme.
Here's an early April play against the Rays. Chris Davis is at the plate, and Machado gets picked off:
Hey, pick-offs happen. Machado was clearly going to take off for second base, so this was a nice play by Jake Odorizzi and the great Steve Pearce.
A couple days later, with the Orioles trailing 4-2 in the sixth inning against the Red Sox, Machado took off for third base with two outs and Davis again up to bat. He didn't make it.
Stealing third without a good jump is difficult enough, but it's even tougher when the right-handed batter's box is open. Machado likely made up his mind at some point during the at-bat that he was going to take off (possibly because of the shift the Red Sox were deploying). Not only didn't it work, but it came in a key spot.
Getting thrown out at third with two outs and Davis up once wasn't enough, so Machado did it again a couple weeks later in Kansas City.
This isn't as bad as the attempted steal in Boston, and it is a better play overall (with a superb pick by Mike Moustakas). Machado doesn't always have great instincts in these situations, and maybe that's something in which he improves. Machado isn't lightning quick, but that's not all it takes to be an effective baserunner.
Still, not only is Machado giving up free outs on the basepaths -- three times now with Davis at the dish. But as you can see in his slide above, he took an unintentional knee to the face, so some of these plays are putting him at extra risk of getting injured. Sure, a player could get hurt on any number of plays -- perhaps just landing on the first base bag wrongly, as Machado has already done -- but there's no reason to do so on plays that only offer a minor benefit.
In May, in a third-inning situation with runners at the corners, two outs, and trailing 1-0 -- and Chris Davis AGAIN at-bat -- Machado seemed to attempt a delayed steal from first base.
At least, I hope that was a delayed steal in an attempt to get the runner from third to score before Machado is tagged out. Roch Kubatko of MASN noted that that's what it was. Regardless, that's a strange thing to do in the third inning with one of the Orioles' best hitters at the plate. That's also the fourth time that's happened.
And here's the most recent baserunning mistake by Machado. Leading by a run in the top of the fifth, Machado leads off by crushing a pitch that slams off the right-center field wall.
The ball briefly gets away from the two outfielders, so Machado makes a dash for third. He didn't make it. You might not believe it, but Davis was due to bat next.
I'm not going to say Machado is a bad baserunner. He's also done things like this during the season, so he's capable of smart decisions and huge plays. However, for his career, he rates as a below average baserunner (-1.6 using FanGraphs' BsR metric) and has been thrown out on 18 of his 48 steal attempts. A success rate of 63% suggests he should stop stealing altogether, or at least that he needs to get much better at picking his spots. Despite his mistakes this season, he still surprisingly rates above average this season (0.6 BsR) and was also above average last year (1.1).
If there's going to be one thing Machado seems to struggle with, then at least it's his skills on the bases. Regardless, there is clearly room for improvement. My guess is that Chris Davis would agree.