Manny Machado: In the Trout/Harper Stratosphere?
When the discussion comes up regarding the best player in baseball, both present and future, the argument often revolves around two players: Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. These two players are well- deserving of the praise. In Trout’s first four full seasons, he won the Rookie of the Year, won four Silver Slugger Awards, appeared in four All Star Games, won the AL MVP, and took second in the MVP voting three times. In Harper’s first four seasons, all he has done is win the Rookie of the Year, appear in three All Star Games, and won the NL MVP. His MVP season of 2015 is particularly notable, as Harper had the second best OPS+ (195) of any player age 22 and under in a single season (min. 400 PA), trailing only the great Ted Williams (235). While Trout and Harper have set the bar particularly high, Orioles’ third baseman Manny Machado might be throwing his name in the “best player” discussion.
MANNY-AC AT THE PLATE
Machado was drafted by the Orioles with the third pick in the 2010 draft, only getting picked behind Harper and oft-injured fireballer Jameson Taillon. Prior to being drafted, Machado’s swing and build drew many comparisons to a young Alex Rodriguez. Machado made his MLB debut on August 9, 2012, just 34 days after his 20th birthday. Machado would announce his arrival in style, hitting two homeruns off of Luke Hochevar in his second career game. Machado would finish the 2012 season with Orioles strong, but his real coming-out party came in 2013.
In 2013, Machado would play in 156 games, and he led the American League with 51 doubles. Among players at age 20, only the previously-mentioned Alex Rodriguez (54) has ever tallied more doubles than Machado in 2013. For young players, doubles can often be a precursor to power potential, as the player continues to grow during his early 20s. After an injury-riddled 2014, Machado was able to start turning those doubles into homeruns in 2015. He played in all 162 games, and hit 35 homeruns on his way to an OPS+ of 132. Among Orioles players since 1950, only Boog Powell and Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. have had seasons with a higher OPS than Machado’s 2015 (.861) at age 23 or younger.
THIRD BASE IN BALTIMORE: A TRADITION OF DEFENSIVE EXCELLENCE
Starting in 1955, another young third baseman made an unprecedented impact for the Orioles. Brooks Robinson played third base for the Orioles from 1955 until 1977, and he set the standard for a defensive third baseman. Robinson accumulated 15 All Star appearances, won 16 Gold Gloves, and was voted the AL MVP in 1964. Robinson has the highest dWAR (defensive wins above replacement) among third baseman all time, and only trails Ozzie Smith and former Oriole Mark Belanger among all position players. Machado has a long ways to go to match Brooks Robinson’s defensive exploits at third base, but he has played his way into that sort of defensive status.
Among Orioles’ third basemen, Machado (8.0) only trails Robinson (38.8) for career dWAR, despite only playing in 462 career games (as of April 18, 2016). Through age 23, Machado’s dWAR is higher (8.0) than both Ripken, Jr. (7.3) and Robinson (4.4). He was able to pass both players despite only playing in 6 more games (462) than Robinson (456) and 45 less than Ripken (507). Machado’s rise defensively has been meteoric, as he rolls out one highlight play after another.
I WANNA BE A MACHADO-MAN
Combining his blossoming offensive ability and his perennial Gold Glove-caliber defense, Machado is looking like a franchise-level player. Among third basemen age 23 and younger, only Hall of Famer Eddie Matthews (25.8) has a WAR (wins above replacement) higher than Machado’s (18.7) to start a career. Machado has also logged two of the five best seasons of WAR all time among third basemen age 22 or younger. He has an arc that looks to be one of a perennial MVP candidate and future Hall of Famer.
Back to our original question, does he stack up with Trout and Harper? In terms of WAR through their age-23 season, Machado (17.7) is actually still behind Trout (28.6) and Harper (19.8). With that being said, Trout and Harper have both had legendary, if not unmatched, starts to their careers. Machado may not be fully on par with those two at the moment, but a torrid start to 2016 has many baseball people thinking he may just be in that mix.
(statistics courtesy of baseball-reference.com)