At any time during the '12-'13 offseason, if you asked fans of the Orioles what they were most looking forward to about the 2013 season, the most common answer would have been something about "a full season of Manny Machado." Manny was called up in August of 2012 to solidify Baltimore's defense at third base, and he had an immediate impact as a nearly league-average hitter and an elite defender.
The question was, how would he fare over a full season? Was that stellar defense just an artifact of playing merely fifty-one games? Perhaps more importantly, would he hit? Manny demonstrated some power in '12, but a .294 on-base percentage just wouldn't cut it going forward.
As we know now, Machado more than satisfied those concerns. He started off the season very strong, with a .331/.363/.515 batting line through May and chasing the single-season doubles record, before slowing down in June and really struggling in July. Manny finished the season with a good August and a poor September, his final line standing at .283/.314/.432: a modest improvement upon his .262/.294/.445 line in '12. Twenty points of on-base percentage more than make up for thirteen points of slugging percentage.
And Machado's glove? Just the best defensive season at third base since advanced metrics like UZR and DRS were introduced in 2002 and 2003, respectively, and tied for the second-best ever according to TotalZone, which uses play-by-play data going back to the 1950s and earlier. Put another way, all three of these methods, plus Baseball Prospectus's FRAA, rated Machado's defense as worth 30-35 runs above average. That's saying, essentially, that he won three-plus games for the O's with the leather alone.
With less than a season and a half under his belt, Manny won't reach arbitration eligibility until the 2016 season, and thus will be paid marginally over the league minimum in '14. That also means that an extension for Machado is likely a low priority right now, as several arbitration-eligible Orioles are due significant raises in 2014, most notably Chris Davis. Knee injury aside, O's fans can look forward to a couple more years of inexpensive stardom at third (and perhaps shortstop, if and when J.J. Hardy leaves the club).