2017 hasn’t been a kind year to Manny Machado. After last night’s 2-4, 1BB performance in Chicago the superstar Baltimore third baseman is slashing just .218/.295/.431. That doesn’t scream “All-Star” one bit, but I’m here to tell you that despite that he should be going to Miami to represent the American League in a few weeks.
More than three months
Manny Machado came into this season as a leading candidate to dethrone Mike Trout as the AL MVP. Why?
Because since coming into the league in 2012 he has been a truly wonderful player. With a career slash line of .279/.330/.473 and coming off back to back 35+ homer seasons it was season to see why Machado, at just 24, was expected to make the step from superstar to SUPERSTAR this season.
Just because that hasn’t materialised in two-and-a-half months doesn’t mean Machado is suddenly a terrible player, or any less of a star than he was at the end of the 2016 season when he mashed 37 homers, scored 105 runs and finished with a 6.5 WAR.
Why the struggles?
Machado’s issues at the plate have been disappointing for more than just Orioles fans this season, but there are few reasons why his numbers are down so far. For starters Machado’s luck has been abysmal this season. His BABIP is just .231, a massing 73 points shy of his career average. That has had a big knock on effect on his slash line, as balls that were getting through last season aren’t now.
Machado is actually making LESS soft contact this season than he did last year, 19.6% against lefties and 17.2% against righties compared to 21.3% and 21.9% in 2016. It’s not that he is swinging the bat any worse, it’s that when he does make contact it is going straight to a fielder.
Away from his batting average, Machado has hit 12 homers so far this season, which looks like nothing in comparison to Aaron Judge or Mike Moustakas, but it puts him on pace for 32 home runs this season, which is right in usual range.
It sounds weird to say that after 57 games a player’s struggles are down to luck, but that is what the numbers show. His average exit velocity (how hard the ball comes off his bat) is 94.5 mph, good for 6th in the Majors and up from 90.3 mph last year. Machado is playing well at the plate, he’s just not getting the results for it.
In fact, since June Machado's stats at the plate have started to improve. It's only been seven games but he has hit two homers, swiped a pair of bases and slashed .320/.370/.640 with a BABIP of .333. Is the luck starting to turn?
It’s more than just the bat
If you haven’t noticed, Manny Machado is a pretty stellar fielder. Since coming up to the Majors and moving to the hot corner he has been among the best third baseman in the field.
Machado has the best defensive rating among American League third baseman by a good distance. Fangraphs has him at 5.7, the next closest is Jose Ramirez of the Indians at 3.9.
These are just two players from the last few weeks, there are many, many more examples of just how good Machado is in the field. It's an aspect of the game that gets forgotten in the world of fantasy baseball and huge Aaron Judge home runs, but fielding is still extremely important, and Machado is simply better than any of his competition for the third base spot at the All-Star game.