The Padres’ Offense Is Broken, and So Is Manny Machado’s Metacarpal

Manny Machado
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

After a season in which he led the NL in WAR and finished second in the MVP voting, Manny Machado was supposed to be right in the middle of the Padres’ takeover of the NL West. Instead, he’s off to a subpar start for a stumbling, sub-.500 team, and now he’s added injury to those insults. Manager Bob Melvin revealed on Wednesday that Machado has been diagnosed with a fractured metacarpal in his left hand and may need a stint on the injured list.

The 30-year-old third baseman was hit by a slider from the Royals’ Brad Keller in the second inning on Monday night, and while he remained in the game, he was replaced by pinch-hitter Rougned Odor in the fourth inning and didn’t play on either Tuesday or Wednesday; the Padres had Thursday off. Initial x-rays did not show the break, but CAT and MRI scans taken on Tuesday revealed that he had suffered a hairline fracture of his third metacarpal.

That revelation was only part of a dark day for the Padres, as they dropped the rubber match of their series against Kansas City, 4–3, and heard their share of boos from the 32,416 fans at Petco Park. They didn’t lose for lack of opportunity, going just 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position and 0-for-3 with the bases loaded. They’ve lost nine of their last 12, including five out of six to the Dodgers, and fallen from 17–15, one game behind Los Angeles in the NL West, to 20–24, 7.5 games back. Their odds of winning the NL West have fallen from 55.4% as of Opening Day to 37.8% before the skid to 12.9% as of Friday morning; their 41.6-point drop in their odds of winning the division is the majors’ largest, and their 23.4-point drop in their odds of reaching the playoffs — from a season-opening 85.3% to 61.9% — is second only to the Cardinals’ 26.6-point drop among NL teams.

After Wednesday’s loss, the team held a players-only meeting, with Matt Carpenter offering a summary:

“We’ve just got to do a better job… You can feel the angst from the fans, and we feel it. It’s just some very unhappy time in the clubhouse — like (it is for) anyone following the team. We haven’t been able to execute like we were hoping we would at this point. So something’s gotta be done. We’ve got to do a better job.”

…“A little bit of a snowball situation kind of happening… where you get an opportunity in a game and guys want it so bad that they take themselves out of the at-bat by doing something that they otherwise normally wouldn’t do.”

As a team, the Padres are hitting .196/.293/.333 for a 73 wRC+ with runners in scoring position; the batting average is dead last in the majors, the wRC+ and OBP are both second-to-last, and the SLG is third-to-last. Overall, they’re second-to-last in the NL in scoring at 3.91 runs per game and 10th in wRC+ at 96 and are hitting a combined .226/.317/.382, with all of the slash numbers in the league’s bottom four.

This is the first time Machado has ever broken a bone, and at this writing it’s not a given that he’ll go on the IL, a domain he’s avoided since suffering a season-ending right knee sprain in 2014; last year, he dodged the IL but missed nine games in late June due to a sprained left ankle. The Padres are holding out some amount of hope that by Friday, he’ll be able to play. Via the San Diego Union Tribune’s Annie Heilbrunn:

Manny said the swelling in hand has gone down tremendously. Has more range of motion today. It’s a matter of dealing with the pain, being able to grip the bat, etc. Will see how it is in a few days…

To be clear, he is going to do what he needs to do to heal and be able to produce for the team. If that means a stint on the IL, he understands that. But there’s no verdict on that for now.

That said, the location of the fracture, in the metacarpal that extends below the middle finger, is right in the middle of the hand. The fact that it’s a hairline fracture means it’s not displaced and doesn’t require surgery, but that doesn’t translate to full functionality or a lack of pain. Even if Machado is tougher than a two-dollar steak, that doesn’t necessarily mean he can gut this out. Such fractures can take six weeks to fully heal, though it wouldn’t be a surprise if Machado tries to return much more quickly than that.

If Machado does miss significant time, the Padres will likely continue the reshuffle of their already rearranged infield by playing Ha-Seong Kim at third base, where he’s spent the past two games and has 55 games of major league experience. They could return Jake Cronenworth to second and give Carpenter, their platoon DH against righties, more time at first. On Tuesday and Wednesday, they played Odor at second, but he’s hitting just .154/.254/.250 (47 wRC+) and hasn’t had a wRC+ above 83 since 2018.

Playing though a hand injury isn’t likely to boost Machado’s offensive performance, which has been dismal, particularly when compared to last year’s .298/.366/.531 (152 wRC+) showing. He’s off to a .231/.282/.372 (81 wRC+) start and has been less productive in May (.217/.288/.326, 73 wRC+) than March/April (.236/.280/.391, 84 wRC+). He’s not hitting the ball as hard as last year, but then even last year he wasn’t hitting the ball as hard as he did in 2021, when his results weren’t as good:

Manny Machado Statcast Profile
Season Events EV Barrel% HardHit% AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA
2021 473 93.1 13.3% 52.0% .278 .291 .489 .526 .350 .376
2022 447 91.5 9.8% 49.0% .298 .264 .531 .447 .382 .338
2023 123 89.1 6.5% 39.0% .231 .213 .372 .353 .286 .274

Oddly enough, Machado’s 2021 Statcast expected numbers match up better to his actual ’22 numbers than his actual ’21 ones. He was well ahead of his expected numbers last year and is ahead again this year, but it’s not amounting to much: His average exit velocity ranks in the 47th percentile, his hard-hit rate in the 42nd, and his barrel rate in the 38th. The 2022 model of Manny is nowhere to be found, except perhaps on defense.

A few things with Machado particularly stand out. Because swing rates are among the first stats to stabilize (starting at around 60 plate appearances), that’s one of the first places I look at a hitter who’s off to a slow start to see if he’s swinging and chasing pitches outside the zone more often — a pattern that suggests a player might be pressing, as Eno Sarris noted a few years ago. But while Machado’ 35.6% chase rate is a career high and his 50.4% swing rate is nearly one as well, both are close to where he was last year — 34.2% for the former, a career-high 50.8% for the latter — in much more successful times. Similarly, his 85.1% zone contact rate is a career low, but it’s only half a point lower than last year; his 12% swinging-strike rate is a career high, yet just 0.4 points above last year. His 20.6% strikeout rate is just an eyelash below last year’s career high. In the aggregate, his swing decisions are similar to last year, so you can understand why he’s preaching a commitment to process.

Looking at Machado’s rolling chase rate does suggest the outline of a narrative:

I went with a seven-game rolling average to approximate a week, seeing if we could detect changes. To these eyes, the story is that Machado was very aggressive in chasing pitches early in 2023, but it didn’t pay off (note the high O-swing% and low wOBA). He then reined himself in and started swinging less, but that didn’t work either, so he went back to swinging more. Things then got as bad as they’ve been, production-wise, and only briefly did he find some kind of equilibrium before getting injured. By comparison, last year he was much more disciplined early and started hotter and was able to expand his zone and chase his way out of some slumps, but he did have periods where things didn’t always work if he got too aggressive or too conservative.

Putting that admittedly subjective interpretation aside, the other thing that really stands out is that Machado’s performance against four-seam fastballs has been deteriorating:

Manny Machado vs. Four-Seam Fastballs
Season % PA H HR AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA EV Whiff%
2019 37.0% 217 54 16 .295 .296 .601 .582 .410 .412 95.1 19.6%
2020 35.5% 79 21 7 .304 .366 .696 .750 .420 .482 93.9 13.9%
2021 33.2% 195 47 8 .281 .309 .503 .588 .367 .415 97.2 16.7%
2022 31.2% 183 36 7 .220 .250 .402 .435 .309 .335 94.5 24.2%
2023 35.7% 47 9 2 .214 .205 .381 .442 .301 .318 93.3 21.7%
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

With the exception of slight rebounds in xSLG and Whiff%, Machado is into his third straight year of decline against four-seamers just about everywhere you look. He wasn’t even all that good against them last year, finishing three runs below average in what was otherwise a huge season; by comparison, he was 16 runs above average against four-seamers in 2019, five above in ’20, and 13 above in ’21. We’re in small-sample territory here, but that’s an ominous trend considering the Padres just committed $350 million to him over the next 11 years.

If you’re looking for an even smaller and more unsettling sample, here’s the trend for Machado against four-seamers 95 mph and higher:

Manny Machado vs. Four-Seam Fastballs 95 MPH or Higher
Season % PA HR AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA EV Whiff% Barrel% Poor%
2019 11.7% 64 3 .296 .257 .519 .437 .381 .346 89.2 20.8% 9.4% 29.7%
2020 11.0% 23 2 .263 .344 .579 .625 .378 .433 85.0 16.3% 13.0% 34.8%
2021 12.9% 82 3 .324 .339 .549 .632 .394 .432 94.5 15.3% 9.8% 34.1%
2022 12.2% 70 3 .215 .245 .415 .462 .298 .330 91.5 24.1% 8.6% 30.0%
2023 13.7% 15 0 .143 .106 .143 .201 .165 .169 86.7 25.0% 0.0% 46.7%
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Poor% = percentage of batted balls categorized as Under, Topped, or Weak.

As you can see, such fastballs are taking up an increasing share of the pitches Machado sees. He’s struggling to handle them to an even greater degree, with an elevated whiff rate, a lack of barrels, and an increasing percentage of poor contact (balls that Statcast classifies as weak, topped, or under that rarely go for hits).

Baseball Savant doesn’t offer full definitions of those poor contact sub-classifications, but you can get a feel from the radial graph above: yellow is the weak contact, balls with very low exit velocities; green is topped, balls generally hit downward that have higher EVs than the weak ones; and light blue is under, balls hit in the air but at angles too steep to be very productive, mostly popups and cans of corn (though down a short foul line, the occasional one might get out).

On that subject, for the years covered by Statcast (2015 onward), poor contact accounts for 58.9% of Machado’s batted ball events, which is below the major league average of 61.4% in that span (yes, more than half of the batted balls of even good hitter generally land in one of those three buckets). For last year, he was down to 55.9% poor contact, but this year, he’s up to 65.1%, including a career high 30.9% in the under category. Last year, he hit .115 (nearly double his .063 xBA on such balls) and slugged .212 with two homers on the 114 batted balls in that category; this year, one-quarter of the way to the season, he’s hit .054 and slugged .081 on 38 when getting under one.

Looking at Machado’s performance one more way: via Statcat’s Swing/Take metrics, last year on pitches in the heart of the strike zone — what Statcast defines as the middle 13.3 inches of the plate, and the middle 16 inches of the zone vertically — he was 16 runs above average. This year, he’s five below average. He’s gone from five above to five below in the shadow of the zone (the edges on either side) as well:

Manny Machado Swing/Take Runs
Season Zone % PA H HR AVG SLG wOBA EV Whiff% Runs
2022 Heart 24.1% 209 86 20 .411 .780 .508 96.8 15.8 +16
2023 Heart 25.6% 58 14 5 .250 .554 .325 94.0 16.9 -5
2022 Shadow 43.5% 310 76 12 .259 .452 .319 89.2 23.6 +5
2023 Shadow 41.7% 77 18 0 .237 .303 .241 85.7 24 -5
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Long story short, Machado isn’t doing enough with the obvious strikes he’s being thrown, fastball or otherwise, and he’s struggling with the borderline pitches as well.

He’s not alone in his frustrations, not on a $249-million payroll team that’s studded with stars in the lineup, and that has gotten prticularly subpar work from starters Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove as well. Even with the return of Fernando Tatis Jr. and the recent resurgence of Juan Soto, the Dads have been bad, with just four regulars and a platoon DH who have a 100 wRC+ or better. Only one regular has matched or bettered his preseason projected wRC+:

Padres Actual vs. Projected wRC+
Player PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Proj wRC+ Dif
Xander Bogaerts 187 .275 .374 .431 128 123 5
Matt Carpenter 107 .209 .340 .395 108 111 -3
Ha-seong Kim 152 .235 .325 .371 97 104 -7
Jake Cronenworth 180 .220 .335 .393 104 115 -11
Trent Grisham 166 .191 .309 .355 90 105 -15
Nelson Cruz 95 .253 .274 .418 87 108 -21
Jose Azocar 45 .244 .262 .293 54 80 -26
Juan Soto 194 .252 .402 .471 142 168 -26
Fernando Tatis Jr. 112 .274 .313 .462 113 159 -46
Manny Machado 170 .231 .282 .372 81 128 -47
Rougned Odor 59 .154 .254 .250 47 94 -47
Austin Nola 102 .151 .263 .209 42 107 -65

I guess that’s why you sign Bogaerts for $280 million. If only the Padres were getting anywhere close to what they though they would from the guy they signed for $350 million, they’d be in better shape, but it could be awhile before Machado is able to help turn things around.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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11 months ago

The Padres’ entire teambuilding approach was flawed from the start. Obviously Machado turning into a pumpkin at age 30 is unexpected, but the way the baseball aging curve works, out spending everyone else on brand name stars in their 30s has never and will never be a winning strategy.

Until the draft and subsequent team control it enables are totally eliminated or dramatically reduced to something like 1-2 years or when a player turns 25, then spending the most will never come close to being as impactful as player development. Spending is to player development as catcher arm was to catcher framing for most of baseball history (i.e. framing was vastly more impactful but harder to quantify and measure, so people defaulted to using the simpler caught stealing% as a proxy for good catcher defense).

There are only two ways to get good and stay good in baseball – you can either have elite development that continuously pops out very good to great players (like the Dodgers and Rays have done), or you can pop out a few great players and extend them while they’re still in their early to mid 20s (like the Braves did).

11 months ago
Reply to  ascheff

Their teambuilding approach is fine as long as it’s understood that they’re going to have a non-competitive team in 5 years but still carry the enormous payroll of today. It’s essentially spending on credit card. You are going to pay eventually but for today you’re suppose to enjoy all the stuff you got.

I mean just compare the Padres to the Astros, another contending team coming into the year with mostly a veteran group of players and essentially no farm system backing it up. And the Astros have also had injury and performance issues this year, but they’ve managed to stay afloat and no one’s saying their team building is somehow flawed.

In the end players just need to produce and the Padres players are just not producing, even disregarding how much they’re making.

11 months ago
Reply to  ascheff

Could be worse! Could be the Mets

11 months ago
Reply to  dukewinslow

The Mets have a better record, a better farm system, and an owner and infrastructure that makes them more likely to be able to sustain this payroll going forward. They also have a number of key players who they drafted and developed internally: Alonso, McNeil, Nimmo and now Alvarez and Baty. The Padres have literally zero.

Other than lazy “lolmets” takes I don’t think the situations are remotely close.

11 months ago
Reply to  JupiterBrando

In all their spending, the Mets were careful to keep their older player commitments short. Even if 2022 stays south they can honestly look to next year. They’ll still be short on pitching but the rest of the roster will be decent enough long term.

SD, on the other hand is all in on the short term. They have to roll with what they have until the next wave of prospects rises up.

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
11 months ago
Reply to  fjtorres

I feel safe saying the 2022 Mets are already looking to next year.

11 months ago

They’re not alone.
There’s also at least three teams looking to 2025.

11 months ago
Reply to  ascheff

That’s exactly why we have the draft and subsequent years of relatively cheap team control.

11 months ago
Reply to  ascheff

You’re getting upvotes now, but if you go back to the original articles where the Padres made all these moves you would have been downvoted into oblivion with comments like this.