28 January 2018

In Defense Of Moving Manny Machado To Shortstop

Buck Showalter finally announced at Orioles FanFest what seemed like an inevitability: that Manny Machado will start the 2018 season at shortstop. It isn't a secret that Machado wanted to play his preferred position, and he seemed more comfortable putting pressure on the Orioles to move over after the departure of mainstay J.J. Hardy.

Many fans are upset with Showalter's decision, believing he is making the O's worse and questioning the logic behind moving an excellent third baseman. But just because Machado is getting what he wants doesn't make it bad for the Orioles as a team. I generally don't like moving infielders around if it's not needed, but calling the move dumb or silly or stupid is simplistic.

There are at least a few sound reasons to play Machado at shortstop instead of third.

Shortstops get a lot more fielding chances than third basemen

If it's possible, a team should want its best infielder to play shortstop. Why? The number of fielding chances. The goal is to have the ball in the superior defender's hands as much as possible.

The ball is hit to shortstop much more than third:

Average top 5 SS in 2017: 690 chances
Average top 5 3B in 2017: 411 chances
Source: Baseball-Reference

What about the year before?

Average top 5 SS in 2016: 674 chances
Average top 5 3B in 2016: 440 chances
Source: Baseball-Reference

You get the idea; there's just more work for shortstops.

Not every third baseman can seamlessly move over to shortstop, and vice versa, but Machado seems to possess those qualities. He filled in for Hardy in 2015 and 2016 and posted a 5.4 UZR/150 and +2 DRS in 433 innings. Beckham, meanwhile, has a career UZR/150 of 2.7 and a DRS of -1. Machado doesn't seem to be a massive upgrade over Beckham at shortstop, but he is better.

(Keith Law's book Smart Baseball also has an interesting discussion of fielding chances and plays made/not made in his chapter that takes down fielding percentage.)

Machado's abilities at shortstop shouldn't be undervalued

Machado is not likely to be one of the top two or three defensive shortstops in the game, but that's hardly a knock against him. Only six qualified shortstops had a UZR/150 of 5.4 or above in 2017, and just 10 had a DRS of +2 or above.

The shortstop who can both hit and field well is rare. The league average shortstop had a wRC+ of 92 last year. It's wonderful to have a superstar, of course, but a superstar shortstop is even more special than a superstar third baseman.

It'll make Machado happy

The Orioles are not in the business of giving their players whatever they want. But if there's even the smallest possibility that Machado playing shortstop will lead to him playing better, that matters. Maybe there's some extra motivation, and perhaps some of that has to do with his next contract and next team. Or maybe some players simply play better when they're comfortable and in the position they want. I don't really buy those reasons, but I wouldn't completely rule them out either.

The O's need Machado to be at his best if they have any chance at all of competing for a playoff spot in 2018. Plus...

It could increase Machado's trade value

There's a chance the O's find out early on that Machado at shortstop just isn't going to work. He didn't play the position at all in 2017, and playing quality defense at shortstop at the major league level is difficult enough without having to wait for the chance to play there regularly.

Still, Machado is incredibly talented, and it's expected that he'll succeed in playing well at shortstop. That could give a team with an opening at shortstop even more motivation to trade for Machado before or at the trade deadline. Maybe another team just wants to see Machado play the position for a couple months.

The O's are looking for an incredible amount of value in any Machado trade. This is a small thing that could push a team to give up even more. Who knows? It only takes one team.

Beckham could increase his positional flexibility

Unless you're bullish on Tim Beckham in a way that almost no one else is, you see the value in having him defensively capable at another infield position. Like Machado, Beckham sees himself as a shortstop and prefers to play there. But while he's played over 1,450 innings at shortstop in the majors, he's also played 520 at second base. Meanwhile, he's played just 52 at third base.

By giving Beckham a chance at third base now, the O's can find out if he can provide value defensively. Maybe they'll simply opt to move him back to shortstop after Machado leaves, or maybe they'll find out his value as a utility player who can fill in adequately at second base, shortstop, and now third base. It's even possible that Beckham turns out to be an above average defender at third.

It may not be a huge benefit, but it'll be interesting to see how Beckham handles the challenges of a new position (especially if he keeps hitting while batting leadoff).

Machado will be gone soon anyway

Even if you're furious about the move, how much can it really matter? Machado is not going to be in Baltimore in 2019, and he could be traded at any moment. That's likely a big reason why the O's put off the announcement as long as possible.

Some fans are mad (not unusual), but I'm with the group in the "whatever" camp. At the end of the day, the O's will be a flawed team regardless of where Machado plays. Even if Machado were to stay at third base, the starting rotation will almost certainly be an enormous problem, along with the rest of the roster issues that have been discussed throughout the offseason.


As things stand now, the O's don't look like they'll be very good in 2018. At least for a while, you get to enjoy watching a marvelous player like Machado handle a challenge, make wonderful plays, and turn some spectacular double plays with Jonathan Schoop. It'll also give you some extra time to talk yourself into a Beckham/Ryan Mountcastle left side of the infield.


Boss61 said...

If you give the inmates the keys, they run the asylum. Increasing is trade value is the only logical reason.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

If you think Showalter would do something like that only to increase Machado's trade value, I'm not really sure what else to tell you.

Pip said...

Is the resulting D a net improvement with Manny at short and Tim at third?
If it's a net improvement great, but would Beckham's weaknesses would be magnified at third, where he has to throw farther and harder?
If a shortstop misses a ground ball, it's usually a base hit, if a third baseman misses a ground ball it's usually a double.
Other teams know how good Manny is, it is unlikely the teams with interest need to watch him play short for two months in order to be interested in him. It's highly unlikely to improve any offers.
I'm not saying it's a terrible idea, but I lean towards thinking that manny at Short/Beckham at third will be weaker than having Manny at third, but it's deck chairs on the Titanic. The team is going to be terrible, so it doesn't really matter.

Unknown said...

Increasing trade value is the ONLY thing that matters now.

Dustin said...

The move to SS frustrates me, simply because it's yet another aspect of Manny Machado in which the Orioles are doing the right thing way too little way too late. If Manny Machado was never going to re-sign with the Orioles, he should be entering his second or third season as their starting shortstop. Though, if we're being real, if the Orioles had handled anything with Manny Machado in a timely manner, he would probably be starting his second season as the starting shortstop or third baseman of another team, with 3-4 decent-excellent prospects on the way for an Orioles team that was looking good to compete in 2019 or 2020.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Dustin, I'm not following why Machado should have been at shortstop already. Should the O's never have extended Hardy? Did you want Machado at shortstop a while ago? I'm not saying you're wrong; I'm just confused.

Dustin said...

Oh, yes, a pretty pivotal part of my argument went unstated, sorry about that:

If this is ultimately a play at 'proving Machado can play SS, thus elevating his trade value' (which I definitely think this is), then it seems like it's much later than it needed to be. But I suppose that my gripe remains with the fact that they only just this offseason opened up to trading him, rather than a year ago when they would have been able to command a good prospect haul back for him. So, I guess I'm tying grievances together here, a bit.

When it comes down to it, moving Machado to SS is a good move, operating in the present. But I guess I don't understand why moving him and displacing Beckham now is any different than doing it last year (or the year before) and displacing Hardy. Is it simply the financial commitment to Hardy that they didn't want to make such a move? If the team is willing to move Beckham to 3rd now, why weren't they willing to do the same for Hardy last year? Why weren't they willing to move Schoop to 3rd, Hardy to 2nd, and Machado to SS a few years ago? Why are they only NOW making this move? It just doesn't make any sense to finally do it now when it wasn't a consideration before.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Because Hardy was around. They valued Hardy's defense and leadership, even if his skills with the bat were making him a liability. Hardy is also a better defender than Beckham at shortstop, so I don't think they viewed that as necessary move. I don't think you want to move 3 infielders around if you don't have to. I can't imagine moving Hardy off of shortstop, if he was healthy, was ever a serious option.

I just can't get that worked up about this. They clearly have mishandled what to do with Machado in terms of trading him earlier, but position wise? I don't think it's that big of a deal.

Pip said...

Matt, on an unrelated subject, what was the answer to your Twitter quiz about the percentage of the 2012 team that was acquired by the various general managers? I don't have Twitter so I can't follow, but I was interested in the question, and I was also interested in whether the partition was based On a number of players each GM acquired or amount of WAR

Matt Kremnitzer said...

That was Jon's quiz. He should be able to fill you in.

Jon Shepherd said...

I ran one on 2014. 60% of WAR was from Duquette, 30% from MacPhail, 10% from Flanny.

Pip said...

Thank you very much, it would be interesting to see the progression from 2012 to today, and consider how the cost per WAR has changed in that span.