Padres Spotlight: Take A Load Off, Manny

There was no avoiding the winter debate over Manny Machado devolving into the much of the stupid and deranged. Machado has had just enough incidents on the field, and comes from somewhere other than these shores, that the justification for freezing him out until spring training was always going to include something beyond collusion. Which we know is all it was. So “attitude problem,” “lazy,” “doesn’t hustle,” and various other dog-whistles were brought to the fore for teams that didn’t sign him. Even the Padres took their sweet time, though got their man at a price to anchor a team on the rise.

Sure, Machado brought a fraction of this on himself with some petulant displays here and there, none of which have anything to do with how hard he runs to first. But you always knew it would get overblown. Whatever, he’s getting $30M a year now, so do you think he cares?

The Padres might, because what they’ve gotten in their first of a 10-year investment is a lot of the confusing player the Orioles saw in 2017.

Machado has seen a 37-point drop in his average, 43-point drop in his OBP, and a 68-point drop in his slugging, to go along with the highest strikeout-rate of his career. He has put in some sterling defense at third, which helped keep him a three-WAR player this season. But you don’t pay $30M for a three-WAR player. You pay for the six-to-seven one Manny was last year, and in ’15 and ’16. So where did that guy go?

In ’17, when Manny had his first “down” year at the plate, it was mostly blamed on luck. And that wasn’t untrue, as he suffered through a .265 BABIP, some 35 points of his career norm and league average. Still, that year his line-drive rate tanked, which didn’t help his batted-balls find the Valhalla of open spaces much. Machado’s line-drive rate has only risen a tick above that in the proceeding two years, and is at 17.1% this year.

It would be easy to believe that the deeper dimensions of Petco Park and the marine layer have hurt Manny’s power, but he’s actually got the highest home run/fly ball ratio of his career. So that’s not it. His hard-contact has gone up along with everyone else’s, enjoying the use of the juiced ball, so it’s not there. Manny is making more soft-contact though, and that might be where the trouble spots are.

Manny is making less contact than he ever has, which means he has the highest swinging-strike percentage of his career. All offspeed and breaking pitches have seen an uptick in whiffs, though not violently so. Manny’s work with fastballs has remained steady and damaging, but everything else is a gooey mess.

Change-ups: .154 average

Sliders: .217

Curve: .195

And again, all have seen an uptick in whiffs/swing, which generally is a signal for someone cheating on the fastballs, fearful they can’t catch up anymore with normal timing. But that’s not what should be happening to a player at 27. That’s for players that are 32 and above.

Another warning sign is that Manny’s slugging in the upper part of the zone has taken a hit, especially on fastballs:

And all his whiff rates at the top third of the zone have increased, including nearly doubling on the inside-high section. But again, Manny is just 27, so this can’t be the start of a decline. On the other side though, Bryce Harper–his free agency contemporary-also seemed to develop a hole high and in this year on fastballs. Except when facing Derek Holland, of course.

More likely this is a one-year glitch. Something in his swing or approach. Pitchers aren’t attacking him with anything terribly different this time around, he’s just not getting there. Perhaps he’s carrying something. The Padres had better hope so, otherwise this is going to be a long ride for everyone.

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