Manny Machado Is Also Amazing

On Monday, we talked a bit about Bryce Harper, and the fact that he is making a legitimate run at Mike Trout for the title of best player in baseball. Harper is somehow building off of last year’s dominant season, and at 23, he’s taking his remarkable performance up another level. But Harper isn’t the only 23 year old superstar playing near the beltway, and remarkably, he hasn’t even been the best player in the area this year. That title belongs to Manny Machado.

Through the first couple weeks of the season, Machado ranks second in the majors in batting average (.407), fourth in on-base percentage (.467), and second in slugging percentage (.796). This across-the-board dominance means that his .530 wOBA edges out Harper’s .526 wOBA for the top spot on the leaderboard, and Machado is the primary reason the Orioles are in first place in the AL East. While he has been overshadowed by the remarkable early-career success of Trout and Harper, and to some extent by Carlos Correa’s arrival last summer, it’s important to realize just how great Machado has become.

During his first few years, Machado was a slightly above average hitter who produced most of his value on the defensive side of the ball, flashing an incredible glove at third base and hitting well enough to be a star because of his overall value. He was a fantastic player, but one in the mold of guys like Adrian Beltre or Scott Rolen, superstars who haven’t always gotten their due. Last year, though, Machado found his power stroke, launching 35 home runs on his way to becoming a legitimate all-around franchise player. His 134 wRC+ put him in the top 25 of hitters in baseball, putting him in the same range as guys like David Ortiz and Ryan Braun. Add in the defense, and well, that’s a pretty great player.

But like Harper, Machado is apparently also not done improving. As with Harper, Machado has also tapped into the value of elevating the baseball.


Only 27% of Machado’s balls in play so far have been hit on the ground, well below the mid-40% range he’s posted in prior years. And Machado is crushing the balls he hits in the air.

Top 10 Air Ball Exit Velocity
Player Batted Balls Avg FB/LD EV (mph)
Domingo Santana 35 101.6
David Ortiz 32 100.3
Ryan Braun 36 99.2
Jake Lamb 31 99.1
Hunter Pence 41 99.0
David Peralta 41 98.8
Eric Hosmer 35 98.5
Christian Yelich 30 98.5
Manny Machado 38 98.4
Trevor Story 36 98.4

If this list was a top 12 instead of a top 10, you’d find Bryce Harper three spots below Machado. This is no longer a guy who is providing most of his value in the field; Machado is morphing into a legitimate slugger, just one who also happens to be a spectacular defensive player.

And this isn’t just a strong April; Machado’s been playing at one of the highest levels a player can reach for over a year now. Using the last calendar year function on our leaderboard, we can see how his performance over the last 365 days stacks up against his peers. First, sorted by wRC+, just to look at his offensive performance.

Top 10 wRC+ Over Last 365 Days
1 Bryce Harper 0.335 0.460 0.674 0.470 203 10.0
2 Mike Trout 0.291 0.397 0.570 0.406 167 8.8
3 Josh Donaldson 0.293 0.369 0.578 0.401 158 8.9
4 Paul Goldschmidt 0.312 0.429 0.549 0.408 157 6.8
5 Jose Bautista 0.263 0.386 0.552 0.398 156 5.5
6 Edwin Encarnacion 0.288 0.379 0.565 0.398 155 5.0
7 Joey Votto 0.295 0.439 0.493 0.401 155 5.8
8 Miguel Cabrera 0.320 0.426 0.503 0.396 154 3.8
9 Manny Machado 0.305 0.377 0.545 0.395 153 8.4
10 Chris Davis 0.260 0.366 0.568 0.394 152 5.9

And now sorted by WAR, to give him some credit for what he does in the field too.

Top 10 wRC+ Over Last 365 Days
1 Bryce Harper 0.335 0.460 0.674 0.470 203 10.0
2 Josh Donaldson 0.293 0.369 0.578 0.401 158 8.9
3 Mike Trout 0.291 0.397 0.570 0.406 167 8.8
4 Manny Machado 0.305 0.377 0.545 0.395 153 8.4
5 Paul Goldschmidt 0.312 0.429 0.549 0.408 157 6.8
6 Yoenis Cespedes 0.290 0.333 0.546 0.372 138 6.7
7 Kris Bryant 0.268 0.357 0.476 0.361 129 6.5
8 Jason Heyward 0.288 0.361 0.423 0.341 117 6.1
9 A.J. Pollock 0.312 0.362 0.498 0.368 130 6.0
10 Chris Davis 0.260 0.366 0.568 0.394 152 5.9

That list shows there’s a clear top tier, with four players on another level from everyone else. Harper and Trout get plenty of attention, given what they’ve done in their careers. Donaldson is the reigning AL MVP. But right there with them is Manny Machado, hanging out with the best the game has to offer, and more than holding his own. This guy is in that class, which is what happens when you hit like Miguel Cabrera and field like a gold glover.

Machado’s probably not going to hit .400 all year, and he’s not going to keep slugging .800, but it should be pretty clear at this point that Machado is no longer a defense-first player who hits alright too. Machado is now one of the best hitters alive, and because he’s also a tremendous fielder, that makes him one of the game’s truly elite players. Bryce Harper certainly deserves all the accolades he’s getting, but let’s not ignore what Machado is doing just a few miles north. The Baltimore-DC area currently has not two of the best 23 year olds we’ve ever seen, as Machado belongs in the conversation of the game’s best as well.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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8 years ago

Soooo Domingo Santana should not be sitting on the waiver wire anywhere, right?

8 years ago
Reply to  carter

Prince is dead and all you knuckledragging mouthbreathers can do is talk about baseball. Don’t you realize that none of this really matters? I am bleeding purple rain…

Brian Reinhartmember
8 years ago
Reply to  Spartacus

Grief is not a competition.

8 years ago
Reply to  Brian Reinhart

But isn’t that part of the Cubs shtick?

8 years ago
Reply to  Brian Reinhart

Yeah, but the Red Sox forfeited more than a decade ago. Maybe nobody told the Cubs fanbase, but the pity party championship is over and they won.

8 years ago
Reply to  Spartacus

No offense, but the world doesn’t stop. For people of a certain generation, this is a day they will always remember, but to others, its just another day. And of course, for some, baseball is their escape from the horrors of their life. How many people might be here because baseball takes their mind off their job, the sick or dying spouse, parent, child, etc. Don’t begrudge someone that escape even if you don’t want to escape your grief at the moment.