Often, you hear the phrase "what am I doing with my life?" as a sarcastic pushback, usually when joking about your own malaise. In reference to Manny Machado, I myself have used it in abundance.
As a run-of-the-mill 24 year-old, it's easy to look at Machado (who is three months shy of the same birthday) and look in the mirror and question your contributions to society. I would very much like to be the proud owner of two Gold Gloves and a Platinum Glove, but I'm what some would consider husky and lack the overwhelming talents to react to a baseball at the "hot corner".
I'd definitely take pride in saying that I hit 35 home runs and was the only player in baseball to play in all 162 games of a season, but again see 1.) portly; me. At least we both can't rent cars or run for Congress, but who am I kidding? He'd be better at those anyways.
As if us millenials weren't already being sabotaged by the everyday awesomeness of Machado, it seems that the Baby-Faced Assassin™ isn't finished with his incidental torment.
Through his first 13 games, Machado has slashed .407/.467/.796 with five home runs and seven runs batted in, equating to baseball's best 254 wRC+. Manny's 1.3 WAR in two weeks worth of games is already higher than the 2015 totals of Gerardo Parra (-0.8), J.J. Hardy (0.0), Jimmy Paredes (0.1) and Jonathan Schoop (0.8), to name a few. In simpler terms, Manny has been as impressive as we've ever seen him, and though we can expect to see his production normalize to a degree, there isn't any evidence to suggest Manny is ready to slow down.
Upon his cementation into the Orioles' everyday lineup, Manny has seen pitchers attack him on the outer-half of the plate, a smarter strategy to attack a hitter with a terrific ability to barrel up the inner-half of the baseball. Though gifted, Machado was still susceptible to the fastball on the outer-half or slider breaking towards left-handed batter's box in attempt to induce a whiff or a roll over ground ball. In 2016, pitchers have been teased back into the strike zone, helping Machado to reach his early astounding metrics.
Though Machado is still being tempted on the outer half of the plate, his take rate against pitches away from him stands to be rising on what some would call "pitcher's pitches". Three-plus years on the big league circuit has furthered Manny's understanding of the strike zone, and how he stands to be strategized against. Even with a smaller sample size, Manny is becoming the kind of hitter that recognizes a pitch that starts as a strike and turns into a ball, forcing pitchers to come over the plate.
He doesn't miss mistakes, either.
Manny Machado Pitch Types, PITCHf/x
Manny is also being pitched differently in comparison to his previous years. Fewer sliders are being exchanged with more curveballs and changeups, a sign of the weariness he brings to opposing pitchers. Specifically curveballs and changeups, the slower breaking balls and off-speed pitches indicate pitchers are making more of an effort to disrupt his timing with pitches down in the zone.
Machado is less likely to turn around a curveball or changeup breaking down towards the plate, but again, he's doing well to lay off of pitches that start as strikes and turn into balls. This continued recognizance of what he wants to swing at, better yet what is a ball and what is a strike, is proving to be an added bonus to his game.
When watching Machado, one of the fancier aspects of his game is his ability to spray the baseball around the diamond, as we saw in 2013 when he hit 51 doubles. Machado has continued to hit the ball anywhere and everywhere with added authority.
According to Baseball Savant, Machado has baseball's 16th-best average exit velocity of 93.79 MPH among players with at least 30 batted balls, including the fourth-highest recorded event at 116.84 MPH. For the most part, Machado hasn't been the primary beneficiary of slap singles or bloop doubles. By elevating his skill to find pitches he wants to hit, Machado isn't missing the barrel of the bat, and more often than not, when you hit the baseball hard, you're going to find holes in the defense.
More pitches down and into the zone have naturally caused a few softer ground balls to left side of the infield, but mistakes on the inner-half have also resulted in bombs deposited into the left field seats. Machado has outbalanced the good with the bad, while also retaining the advanced ability to hit the baseball with authority to the opposite field.
While his walk numbers are slightly down and his strikeout rate is hovering just above last year's frequency, the need to take a base on balls hasn't been a necessity. He's been too busy hitting line drives.
I know the sample size is still small to project onto a larger scale, and perhaps the fanboy in me is too high strung to be held down, but when it gets to the point you're surprised a player makes an out instead of smoking a base hit, something special is happening.
Machado is the kind of talent I haven't seen play in Baltimore in my time as a baseball lifer, so when I see someone of his talent level continue to stride towards an echelon unknown, it's hard not to get excited. His defense is profound, his swagger is next-level and it appears his bat is strolling to the same, if it wasn't already.
Did I mention he's only 23?