12 November 2014

Looking Ahead to Manny Machado in 2015

You've likely heard baseball analysts marvel at how young Bryce Harper is. Indeed, it is pretty amazing what Harper has been able to accomplish so far, considering that he turned just 22 in October. (Mike Trout, meanwhile, turned 23 in August, but he's on a completely different level.) But Manny Machado is also just 22 (his birthday is in July), and he has provided similar though superior value to the Orioles than Harper has to the Nationals, despite playing in 68 fewer games and stepping to the plate 223 fewer times. (Harper made his major league debut on April 28, 2012; Machado made his on August 9, 2012.)

Manny Machado: 10.1 fWAR; 10.4 bWAR
Bryce Harper: 9.5 fWAR; 9.6 bWAR

That's not a knock against Harper, who is a phenomenal talent. But whether it's because of his worrisome knee injuries, or that it's more difficult to assess value for defensive skills than offensive prowess, or his bizarre behavior against Oakland in June -- or perhaps all three -- Machado is occasionally shortchanged among his peers in the young phenom department.

Machado's first major (left) knee injury came at the end of the 2013 season in Tampa Bay when he tore his medial patellofemoral ligament. (Machado also suffered a left knee injury in 2011 in the minors.) He missed the Orioles' last six games that year, and he wasn't able to make his 2014 debut until May 1 (missing the first 24 games). Considering how bad the injury looked at the time, Machado only missing 30 total games was pretty remarkable, even if there was some speculation at the time that he could have been ready for opening day. Unfortunately, he was only able to stay healthy for a few months before hurting his right knee in mid-August. Machado was initially diagnosed with a knee ligament sprain, and there was some hope that he would be able to return after resting for a few weeks. But Machado opted for season-ending surgery about two weeks later to repair a similar abnormality that had been discovered in his left knee.

Because his latest surgery was able to take place earlier in the year than in 2013, Machado should be ready for opening day in 2015. And that's meaningful for the O's, who mostly relied on Ryan Flaherty at third base in his absence (with some Kelly Johnson and Jimmy Paredes sprinkled in). Now that Machado has sustained two serious knee injuries -- and three knee injuries overall -- it's important for him to stay healthy for a sustained period of time. Still, it's worth noting that his injuries have come on strange plays: one after landing awkwardly while stepping on first base, and the other after losing his balance on a swing.

Just having Machado back on the left side of the infield will give the O's a boost. He's that good with his glove. He may never be as good as he was in 2013 again, when his advanced defensive metrics were otherworldly, but outstanding defense is still his calling card.

He's also improved offensively in parts of three seasons.

2012: 202 PA, 97 wRC+
2013: 710 PA, 102 wRC+
2014: 354 PA, 111 wRC+

The 2012 and 2014 samples aren't as large as 2013. And not all players demonstrate steady improvement each season. Baseball at the highest level is too difficult for that to be the norm. But Machado is talented and young, so showing even a little offensive improvement increases his already high defensive-fueled value. Last season, the average major league third baseman had a wRC+ of 100. So as long as Machado fields well and is about average offensively, he'll be just fine. Machado, the Orioles, and fans expect much more than that, sure, but having that type of player under team control through 2018 is a very good thing.

Machado's health concerns were undoubtedly a contributing factor to the Orioles recently inking J.J. Hardy to a three-year extension (with a 2018 team option). When Machado first came up, many fans assumed he would eventually gravitate to shortstop, his natural position. But Hardy is already excellent defensively, and the O's signed him to a more lucrative extension than in 2011, though it's still a pretty fair deal. Machado's biggest challenges may not be whether he can keep improving offensively or eventually shift to shortstop, but whether he can stay healthy. And staying at third base, where he's already established himself as one of the game's best defenders, makes the most sense.

Photo via Keith Allison


Philip said...

I hope he matures in other ways as well as he is maturing athletically.
Given that Flaherty is a fine infield backup, presumably we can look for upgrades over Parades and Johnson, both of whom offered/performed next to nothing/not well at all.
Have you investigated who might be available to take their place? There are some worthwhile FA utility guys available...
Meanwhile, good article.

Anonymous said...

I agree Harper and Machado have a lot in common and Machado should be considered on the same level, but definitely lower than Trout (like everybody else in the league). The main offensive difference between Harper and Machado is slugging percentage. Hopefully, Machado will increase his slugging percentage closer to 0.500 in the next few years. Good article.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I think Paredes performed well offensively in limited duty, but he's surely a liability defensively. And you're right, Flaherty is a nice backup, considering he's a good defender and can play most infield positions. I haven't specifically looked a who the O's should target to upgrade their infield depth, but I wouldn't be surprised if Duquette brought in the usual collection of quad A and/or veterans to see if one of them sticks.

Anonymous said...

Consider the idea that Hardy was signed because Machado may never move over to SS. The range required at SS and on two bum knees is not a gamble I'd take. Leave him at 3B and start searching for or draft Hardy's replacement.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Well, right. At the very least, he won't be playing shortstop for a while.

Anonymous said...

Manny on 3rd. JJ at short. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Unknown said...

"Still, it's worth noting that his injuries have come on strange plays:.....and the other after losing his balance on a swing." On wet ground after an extended rain delay. I'm not going to act like I saw it coming, but I was not happy to see him in the lineup, in a game that wasn't crucial. This season, Manny has to be properly utilised and care has to be taken. His Achilles Knees have been exposed and Buck hopefully realizes that there will be conditions that rate as a day off.

Conversely, with the Oakland issue in mind, this should be a maturing, wake-up call for Mr. Machado. I think it's sinking in that there are only so many second chances. He needs to save the next one for the next injury.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully Manny's knee problems which go back to his minor league days are now corrected.He may have had a congenital weakness causing the instability.I imagine the O's trainers will do everything they can to build up his leg muscles to limit future problems.

Anonymous said...

That kind of knee injury is never corrected. Do not expect an extension.

Anonymous said...

It's never corrected? Wasn't that what the surgery is for? You a doctor? As far as I can understand and have read this kind of abnormality is not unheard of in athletes, and now that both knees have been repaired i dont see why Manny can't have a long, non-diminished career (based on the talent we all have seen in him)
After one knee surgery Manny rounded into nice form after getting back into regular playing-shape, not starting the season for that long would set anyone back. But to say he has "two bum knees" and act like his career is effectively over is very silly to me

Jon Shepherd said...

Just a note...many surgeries do not exactly correct the issue. Shoulder surgery is notorious for that. Back injuries, too. The prognosis for Manny's knee for this kind of injury is not great. There will likely always be a heightened risk.