In what has been an Orioles season lacking in good news, there seems to be a tide turning in the club’s favor. As it appears, the tsunami that is Manny Machado is on the verge of making land.
It’s no secret that Machado’s offensive start to the 2017 season has been an all-encompassing disappointment. Entering July, Machado’s 85 wRC+ could be pinpointed as one of the primary reasons for the Orioles’ landslide in the American League, forcing the front office to consider casting away some of the big fish in the bullpen. More importantly, Machado’s middling bat has slowly dented an offense that’s currently in the bottom half of the league with a 93 wRC+.
However, the peripherals suggested that Machado’s offensive slumber was due to crawl out of its hibernation. Machado, a guy with a feel for the barrel of the bat and a lot of unfortunate batted ball results, never seemed destined for permanent struggles. Asking when, not if, he would eventually post Machado-esque production really became a predicament of timing.
It looks like the time is now.
Since July 1, Machado has posted a .351/.403/.561 slash with a monthly best 158 wRC+. His walk rate has pretty much hovered around the expected norm, but his strikeout rate has never been lower, with strike three arising in only 14.5 percent of his plate appearances. Such is a welcomed improvement from his nearly 20 percent strikeout rate in the first half. In 15 games this month, Machado has failed to notch notch a base-hit in only two of them.
For Machado, it’s never been the ability to hit major league pitching, but situating himself to do so. Early on, Machado wasn’t doing himself any favors.
We’ve talked about Machado’s early season approach at the plate on here before, and it seemed to be that the 25-year-old superstar was trying to do a little too much to elevate his mythical status. Too many big swings and important misses have can create a chart like the one above. Machado is too good of a hitter to see this many whiffs in areas of the plate where he is as potentially dangerous as anyone else on Earth, and we obviously see the same depreciation off the plate as well.
Quite simply, that wasn’t the real Manny Machado.
As July has aged however, Machado has managed to turn baseballs over the plate into hits, and he’s no longer extending the boundaries of the plate. He’s back to hitting within himself. Naturally, with less misses in the heart of the plate, Machado has become more successful offensively, but the process of creating hittable pitches has been substantially more fundamental.
For example, the rate at which Machado has whiffed on curveballs and sliders in July has fallen off the table tremendously. With more takes against junk, what happens when a well-adapted fastball hitter gets more fastballs? Good things, broseph.
Prior to the current month, Machado’s slash line against fastballs slotted in at an atypical .165 average and .330 slugging, with a BABIP of only .177. Combine mistimed swings and a lack of contact inside the strike zone, and you’re going to get into a lot of bad counts.
Even good fastball hitters are susceptible to their favorite pitch when they’re forced to get defensive, and with a BABIP as low as it was, Machado was falling victim to too many baseballs at harmless speeds, despite a well-above-average mean to his exit velocity.
By cutting down on the number of detrimental swings, Machado has forced pitchers to come back over the plate with fastballs, and he’s not missing.
Against fastballs in July, Machado’s managed a .400 average with a .667 slugging, with his work being the case of a .417 BABIP. Machado is no longer assisting pitchers in getting him out, but instead forcing the guy 60 feet, 6 inches away to locate with quality. When they haven’t, he’s pounced, and that’s hitting at its most basic.
You could tell things were starting to shift for Machado just before the All-Star break, especially in his four-hit, two home run performance against the Twins on July 7.
In that game, three of Machado’s hits were to right field, and strictly to the opposite field, he was a triple shy of the cycle.
You’re probably exhausted of Jim Hunter’s infatuation with Machado or any Oriole going the other way, as he predictably signals that said hitter is no longer slumping because of one baseball being hit to the less flashy side of the outfield. As virtuous as the utterance is, Machado hitting the baseball with authority to right field glimpses into how he’s seeing the baseball.
In the exhibit above, Machado gets a high and away 2-1 fastball, creating a swing with plenty of options. As he has for most of the year, this could have been a pull swing that resulted in nothing more than a pop up or whiff. He certainly could have muscled up with one of his good-for-nothing home run cuts, with results equal to the former.
Instead, Machado recognizes and reacts, deploys his natural hitting talent, and something not many hitters are capable concludes a perfect swing. While there are plenty of examples of one game such game not amounting to much, Machado has maintained that same rhythm to a point where his return to form is on the brink of confirmation.
The Orioles are currently riding what Lou Brown would call a “winning streak”, and if the postseason pipe dream hasn’t been fully clogged with bad starting pitching, this version of Machado is conditional to any meaningful games in September. Machado has to be the player we know is capable of winning games all by himself.
It has happened before.