Manny Machado had a strong 2013 season that ended in disaster. He hurt his lower leg running through the first base bag, and reports suggested he would be fine with some rest. We now know that news to be inaccurate. Turns out that Machado will have to undergo surgery on his knee and estimates place him out of action for 4-6 months (it sounds like six months is more likely than four after the surgery was performed). If he’s toward the end of that spectrum it’s quite possible he won’t be ready for Opening Day 2014. Hopefully the 21 year old will be able to take the field for game one next season (we’ll get constant updates on his progress so we should have a pretty good idea where he’s at come draft season… Derek Jeter. Sorry, couldn’t resist). Let’s review the type of player fantasy owners should be expecting next season if Machado is healthy.
Let’s start with his age. Machado didn’t turn 21 until July 6th, so most would consider 2013 to be his 20 year old season (the unofficial/official cut off date for ages is traditionally July 1st). That being so, here is how Manny ranks among other youngsters throughout history.
Machado had a league leading 710 plate appearances and that’s the third highest for a 20 year old ever (Buddy Lewis had 733 in 1937).
He hit 51 doubles, three less than Alex Rodriguez‘s 20 yr old record.
He also posted an OPS+ of 100 (the players effort compared to the rest of the league during that season), and only 44 players 20 or younger have every done that in a season in which they qualified for the batting title.
And everyone’s favorite category, one most have no idea how to figure out, Machado finished with a 6.5 WAR in 2013 which is 7th all-time for a player 20 or younger and that paints his 2013 season as one hell of an effort (thanks to Jay Jaffe for the research).
All of that is great, but we don’t get extra points in fantasy baseball because of a guys age or because he plays strong defense. So let’s break down the type of hitter Machado is for the fantasy game.
Fifty one doubles is fantastic in the real world but it means nothing in fantasy unless you are in a points league of course. What that number signifies is that Machado is an expert at hitting the ball in the gaps, but that he is not capable of lifting the ball yet. This isn’t uncommon for young players and being able to lift the ball is a skill that can grow as a player ages (he’s 6’2” an about 180 lbs, and he could certainly add to his size with age and that will also help). However, at this point there are issues with Machado’s power game. He hit only 14 homers in 2013. Why? He hit 47 percent of his balls on the ground and only 32 percent in the air resulting in a 1.46 GB/FB ratio. The league average there is usually about 1.10, and the league average fly ball rate is about 34 percent. He hits too many grounders and not enough fly balls to be a big home run bat. Toss in his slightly below league average 7.9 percent HR/F ratio and you’ve got a player who will likely struggle to hit 20 homers in 2014.
As for his batting average that mark improved from .262 in his first season to .283 in year two. At the same time that only tells part of the story. He was very consistent on the season with an .013 point difference against righties and lefties, a .006 point difference on home and the road, an a .004 point difference between night and day games. That’s all nice and speaks to a rather stable effort. However, it’s the huge swing he had as the season wore on that is the biggest concern. After hitting .310 before the All-Star break his effort dipped to .240 over his last 60 games. Moreover, he failed to hit .200 in July and September and those two months included exactly 200 at-bats.
Some will say he just wore down. I will say things regressed to there they should be. He struck out 113 times which isn’t an awful mark for a guy with all those plate appearances, but he took a total of 29 walks all season. You know what I think of these guys that never take a walk (his BB/K was terrible at 0.26 after a 0.24 mark as a rookie). He simply must learn to take a pitch. If not, his average isn’t likely to significantly improve. His lack of patience is also a huge issue for his runs scored mark. Through 912 career plate appearances he owns a .309 OBP which is about .020 points below the league average. That’s just awful. It’s actually a credit to his teammates that he scored 88 runs with an OBP as low as it was in 2013 (it was .314). No other player in baseball who scored at least 88 times had an OBP that was lower (the only player with a lower mark was Mark Trumbo who had a .294 OBP and 85 runs scored. Of course, he also knocked himself in 34 times with big flies).
As for his thievery skills there’s a lot to be learned. Machado stole a mere six bags in 2013 and while that’s nothing to get excited about I would be remiss if I didn’t mention he was caught seven times. You need a 67 percent success rate or you’re hurting your teams chance to score runs. He was under 50 percent. A red light might be in his future.
Machado is a fantastic talent an a building block in dynasty/keeper leagues without question. At the same time his 2014 outlook is a bit muddled. We have to worry about his return from knee surgery. We have to worry about his second half fade. We have to worry about his approach at the plate. We have to worry about his lack of long ball power. We have to worry about his complete ineffectiveness on the base paths. Add that all up and it’s quite possible that Machado will be overdrafted in 2014. Don’t expect much improvement if any on his 2013 numbers. This youngster is a work in progress.
By Ray Flowers