01 June 2017

Does Manny Machado Have A Contact Problem?

If you aren't worried, even a little bit, about Manny Machado's ongoing slump, that's fine. One of the best players in the game and a year and a half from earning a payday that nearly everyone else on the planet can only dream about, Machado doesn't seem concerned either:
While Bundy has hit a groove, Machado is struggling for the first time since his injury-plagued 2014 season. He’s battled beanballs against Boston and, despite career highs in walk rate and hard-contact rate, he’s hitting only .210/.292/.415, for an 88 wRC+. But Machado says he hasn’t changed his approach or swing, nor does he think pitchers are attacking him differently. In fact, he’s completely unconcerned with his underlying numbers.

"That’s you guys coming up with some dumb-ass stats," he said. "I’m just playing baseball. It’s just like any other year. For five years it’s been the same. It’s just a matter of [hits not] falling now, and that’s just part of the game."
He's the player, and he's allowed to think whatever he wants. There is no requirement for a player to care about any stats, let alone advanced metrics. Machado's job is to produce, and he knows it, so anyone talking to him about how he's not producing is just getting in the way. He's done it, and he knows he'll do it again.

I don't think anyone would really argue that he won't start hitting well again. Until recently, his numbers weren't great, but they also weren't horrible. But there are some disturbing trends forming, and while adjustments are a constant throughout the game, Machado has perhaps reached a crossroads.

Things have been bad for Machado before at the plate, but it's been a while. In fact, you have to go back to May and June of 2014 to find a worse stretch for him:

wOBA chart via FanGraphs
Two things are true about Machado. First, when he makes contact, he's hitting the ball very hard. He's hitting the ball as hard as he ever has, and that's something in which he's improved upon nearly every season. But second, he is making less contact than ever.

Right now, Machado is posting career lows in contact rates across the board. That he's making contact on just half of the pitches he sees outside the zone, though, particularly stands out. Among all qualified players, that's tied for 13th worst. When looking at some of the other names on the list, it doesn't appear to be so bad. There's Miguel Sano (27.4%), Joey Gallo (38.8%), and Aaron Judge (42.9%). Judge and Sano are off to tremendous starts, and Gallo is one of the most powerful hitters in the league. Sano and Judge are Nos. 1 and 2 in terms of average exit velocity this season, while Gallo is fourth. Machado is tied for sixth. Sano has a BABIP of .461 (165 wRC+) and Judge a .402 BABIP (197 wRC+), yet Machado has a BABIP of .218 (82 wRC+). At the very least, that's odd.

Still, it's noteworthy that Sano and Gallo are tied for third on average distance of batted balls (242 feet). Judge is tied for 19th (211 feet). Machado is tied for 145th (179 feet). Machado is surely hitting the ball hard, but many of them are on the ground (GB% is up 6% from last year) and to the left side (Pull% is up a few percentage points). That'll drag things down. Just look at Machado's spray charts from this year and last. There are a lot of line drives missing.

Machado has had a stretch of chasing and missing this many pitches before, but ever since the middle of the 2015 season, his overall contact percentage has been trending downward:
Contact% chart via FanGraphs
You would figure this is near the low point, and things can't get much worse in terms of contact. So what the heck is going on? A couple weeks ago, Nick Cicere at Camden Chat examined Machado's struggles and diagnosed his approach. Machado has been taking some wild swings at times, giving the appearance that he's gunning for more home runs. Jim Palmer also noted on the MASN telecast recently that Machado is working with a more open stance. That doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing, but, well, it's not working right now.

Machado is too skilled not to work his way out of this, and it'll be interesting what adjustments he eventually makes. He's the one superstar player the Orioles have; the sooner he breaks out of this, the better, especially since the Orioles have fallen back to Earth after a strong opening month.


Unknown said...

His swing is a bit long this year. I feel he could save some time swinging if he closed his real open stance a bit. it looks more open than last year. He needs to get his confidence back up by just hitting the ball and not going for the HR

tony2302 said...

if the Orioles were still playing at a .650 clip people wouldn't be as concerned. but, since they aren't it easy to look at him and say AH HA! but seriously. he'll start to hit and when he does we just have to hope the pitching comes around.

Unknown said...

Nobody who's been watching would buy that "hasn't changed his approach or swing" bit. It's obviously different. If not all season, it has at least been since the early Red Sox series with all the controversy since Machado has looked like himself. He's obviously trying to punish every ball. Used to go with outside pitches. His swing is longer and more violent now. No surprise he's making less contact.

vilnius b. said...

I probably shouldn't comment on Machado's struggles. I haven't been able to watch any Orioles games because we're transitioning from cable to cable alternatives so the only baseball I can watch is on mlb.tv. And since I live within a 50 mile radius of Baltimore (Silver Spring, MD) they won't show the Orioles.
But I'll throw in my two cents anyway.
Matt is right: Manny should be able to break out of his slump, especially if he can improve his line drive rate---he averaged a nearly 20% LD rate the last four seasons but this year it sits at only roughly 11%---and hit fewer ground balls.
No way that BABIP will stay at .226 (including last night's games) if he can do that. Easier said than done, of course.
So I have two questions: 1) With the revolution in hitters changing their launch angles
(btw: there was a good article in WaPo about that today), why is Manny hitting so many more ground balls? He's always had a high IFFB%, which suggests to me that he has always tried to get a little under the ball and drive it. Can changing your stance make such a big difference in that?
2) And looking at Manny's 50 game rolling contact %---that Matt provided a link to---I'm left to wonder: what is the major league average for that? If baseball players everywhere are trying to change their launch angles and hit more flyballs and HRs, shouldn't we expect to see the contact percentages go down for everybody? After all, strikeouts are up for most major league hitters too as home runs go up.

One final note: thanks for editing the comments from anonymous writers! It was getting to be such a pain to read some of the uncivil and silly comments that I started reading fewer articles in Camden Depot. I welcome the change and I'm sure other serious readers of this web site do too.

Anonymous said...

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Scott Bourland said...

No, Manny has a contract problem.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Right now, Machado's Contact% is 74%, which would be a career low. In 2017, the major league average Contact% for non-pitchers is about 78%.

For the past several years:
2016: 78.4%
2015: 79%
2014: 79.5%
2013: 79.7%
2012: 79.9%

So, yes, as you'd expect with the rise in strikeouts and power, contact rates have decreased. That does provide some context for Machado, but the steady decrease is still concerning, even if I think he'll break out of this soon.