Padres: Manny Machado Is Reminding Us Not to Judge Too Early
A month into the 2019 season, chirps of the Padres’ Manny Machado being a bust were already being thrown around. Two months later, they are starting to quiet if they haven’t disappeared altogether.
As Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.” In sports, “With a huge contract comes lofty expectations,” and that is what the Phillies’ Bryce Harper and Padres’ Manny Machado have been facing ever since they signed the first-ever $300 million free agent deals in American sports history.
And rightfully so. When you sign the two biggest free agent contracts ever, it comes with the territory. But that kind of pressure can break certain individuals or cause them to underperform because trying to justify that kind of money can lead to forcing the issue.
Take Harper, for example. He’s by no means having a bad year in any stretch of the imagination, but a .839 OPS and 15 home runs through 84 games isn’t $330 million good, and well below his peak.
But on the flip side, there are those who rise to the challenge and perform like their usual self and beyond. And Manny Machado is starting to remind us of his superstar talent after starting the season off terribly with the San Diego Padres.
At the start of play on Tuesday, his season line sits at .276/.349/.513 with 20 home runs. The homers are there, but the .862 OPS isn’t what one would consider $30 million-a-year-worthy. But a lot of that has to do with his slow start to 2019.
At the end of April, the 26-year-old’s OPS sat at a measly .693 with four home runs through 29 games. A lot of his early-season struggles had to do with Petco Park swallowing up his offense, as it does to most players. But he was by no means a world-beater on the road either.
However, the Padres’ third baseman has been the perfect case study of not overreacting after the first month of a 162-game season, let alone a ten-year contract, because he began to rebound in May, hitting .283/.365/.485 with five home runs, before completely taking off last month.
His OPS, wOBA, and wRC+ during this stretch are all top ten in baseball, while the 11 long balls are the most from any player. And it’s no surprise that the Padres have had a top-5 offense since then.
How’s he done this? There’s no single remedy, especially since an element of luck is involved with baseball. But it’s about improving different aspects of your game so fortune will favor you more often.
For starters, he’s finally elevating his robust rate of hard contact. Focus on launch angle is part of the new-age sabermetrics revolution, and there has been a correlation (and I’ll even say causation) between hitting the ball higher more often and good results.
It’s quite simple, really: hitting the ball hard and in the air is a lot more effective than hitting it hard and on the ground, and the increase in home runs and extra bases show just this.
Through April, he had a 1.21 ground ball: fly ball ratio, according to FanGraphs. But that number dropped to 0.79 last month by decreasing his grounders by 7% and increasing his flyball rate by 11%.
It’s also clear that he’s seeing the ball and reacting better. Early in the season, per Brooks Baseball, Machado was hitting .257 with a .514 slugging percentage against the four-seam fastball, while swinging-and-missing almost 30% of the time. Similar struggles persisted with breaking balls and offspeed stuff.
One of the basics to being a successful hitter in the show is to be able to hit the fastball. If you can’t hit the heat, especially in a day and age where we have an obsession with high velocity, it will always be an uphill battle.
During this hot stretch, Machado is hitting over .400 with a 1.147 SLG against the cheese, while dropping his whiff rates across the board. But to be one of the elites, you also have to be effective against the offspeed and breaking stuff, which he has improved drastically upon as the season has progressed.
This may help explain why he’s been able to spray the ball all around the ballpark more- an effective way of being an excellent hitter.
And on the other side of the ball, he’s been a rock at the hot corner, collecting five Defensive Runs Saved. It’s at shortstop which metrics have never been his biggest fan.
In the big picture, it’s way too early to make a verdict on the ten-year deal the Padres handed Machado. His early struggles and recent hot stretch are hints that anything can happen the rest of the season, let alone between now and 2029, so it’s best if we reserve our judgment.
But it’s fair to say that he’s once again reminding us of his uber-talent, and that to get an elite player, you need the big bucks. If you are interested to learn more about us and receive more content, click here!