This past week or so has been turbulent to say the least for Manny Machado. The unending brush back pitches delivered by Red Sox pitchers have been front-page news, but Machado’s on-field response has been a thing of beauty. Not only has he kept his composure despite tense circumstances, but he has also made powerful statements of prowess with his bat and glove.
He started immediately after Matt Barnes’ almost knocked his block off at Camden Yards by crushing a run-scoring double over center fielder Jackie Bradley’s head on the next pitch he saw. Manny continued to play stellar baseball against the Red Sox in this week’s four-game series in Boston, hitting three homeruns out of Fenway Park onto Lansdowne Street.
But his defense has been nothing short of stellar as well, especially evident in Monday’s game when he finished with five assists and two putouts. Most of the seven balls hit to him were difficult chances handled with ease by the 24-year-old third baseman. And he put the exclamation point on the 5-2 win with a nifty diving catch off of Chris Young’s bat for the final out of the game.
Particularly sweet was the play he made starting a double play in the first inning. Mookie Betts hit a one-hop bullet that Machado speared but caused him to back up and throw off his rear foot like Joe Flacco pressured in the backfield. But Manny had surprising zip on his pass to Jonathan Schoop at second base who spun and turned the double play. A ball that looked like a hit off the bat became two outs in a hurry.
So how good is Manny as a defensive player? He has won the gold glove twice in the last four years, and in 2013 season was named the American League platinum glove winner as the best overall defensive player. He was named as one of the three finalists for the gold glove award last year, but lost out to Adrian Beltre.
So far this year, he’s passing the eye test with flying colors as Beltre has yet to play due to calf injuries. Maybe Machado can approach his 2013 numbers, when he led all AL players with a defensive WAR of 4.3 as a 20-year-old.
I prefer to think about this type of defensive WAR – the wins above replacement kind – instead of current talk in the world about a preemptive nuclear strike.
Many see WAR as the ultimate statistic to measure a baseball player’s overall value. It’s one that considers both offensive and defensive metrics and compares them to the average replacement level. So defensively alone, Machado’s defense was worth more than four wins for the Orioles in 2013.
Through his first 26 games in 2017, his defensive WAR is 0.8. If he can continue this pace and play 162 games, he would finish with a dWar of 5.0 and eclipse his 2013 success. That would match the dWAR earned in 2015 by Ray’s center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is an annual candidate to lead this category.
Curious to know how his 4.3 dWAR stacked up against other single-season leaders, I found that the Orioles are well represented with four spots in the top 11 according to baseball-reference.com. Like Spinal Tap’s volume control, I’m turning it to 11 because Machado’s 2013 season ranks him there, in a tie with Hall of Fame shortstop Joe Tinker (of Tinker to Evers to Chance notoriety).
Manny is in good company on the list, joining Brooks Robinson and Mark Belanger. Brooksie and The Blade comprised one of the best defensive left sides of the infield in MLB history and combined to earn 24 gold gloves. It is good to see the numbers back up the defensive wizardry Oriole fans witnessed all those years ago.
Shortstop Belanger made the list twice for his 1968 and 1975 seasons, and Robinson’s 4.5 dWAR – also in 1968 – placed him eighth all-time. Their defense combined won almost nine games for the 1968 Orioles, nearly 10 percent of their wins.
Also noteworthy is that half of these top single-season dWAR leaders achieved their prominence since 2013 or in 1917 or before. Not sure why that is but if Machado continues to show the range, the hands and the rocket arm, he may crack the top five this year.