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Manny Machado’s performance has been even better than it’s seemed

Through all of the Orioles struggles to begin the season, one thing has remained constant — Manny Machado’s brilliance.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

When a team has struggled as much as the Orioles have over the course of the 2018 season, it’s often difficult to find bits and pieces of positivity to harp on. The weeks are long, the games drag on and the inevitable loss always finds a way to storm onto the scene night after night. It’s a tough cycle for a baseball fan to be in.

It’s been a pretty tough season to watch the Orioles thus far, but for a minute, can we appreciate a bit of good?

Namely, can we talk about how good Manny Machado has been?

We watch Machado night after night and are amazed by and somewhat desensitized to just how good he really is. Even with a position change, there have been no setbacks and his value has leapt off the field since the start of the season. Does it have something to do with the amount of money he is set to potentially make? Who knows. All that’s for certain is that Machado is healthy and he’s every bit living up to the player he’s grown into for quite some time.

On the year, he is hitting .350/.441/.669. That’s absurdly good.

To put it into perspective, the highest batting average he’s had over the course of a full season is the .294 mark he posted in 2016. For on-base percentage, .359 in 2015. For slugging, .533 in 2016.

Players are supposed to improve as they reach their prime, but Machado has been scary productive in a manner that we just haven’t seen him hit during his time in Baltimore. Over his five full seasons in Baltimore before 2018, he compiled a .280 batting average. That’s a good mark. But it’s reduced to nothing when compared with that .350.

Let’s not forget that he’s also hit 13 home runs in just 181 plate appearances. That’s a round-tripper in seven percent of his times at the plate. Over his previous five-year span, that mark was down to four percent. He’s almost hitting home runs at double the rate of his career. That’s not too shabby.

Machado’s value gets even more interesting with a bit of depth.

Here are a few of the numbers that jumped out to me as I was scanning his FanGraphs player page (which, by the way, is a sight to be seen):

  • Machado has a 12.7% strikeout percentage in 2018. The lowest he’s ever had in a season is 15.9% in 2013.
  • His BB% is a sky-high 12.7% (not a typo, he has 23 walks and strikeouts on the year).
  • His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is .344. Since he’s hovered around the league average of .300 for most of his career, you would think that this signals that he’s been just getting lucky. It’s an interesting theory, especially since his hard contact rate hasn’t seen a jump. However, it should be noted that he’s gone to the opposite field 30.4% of the time this season. That’s way up from his career average. To put it into perspective, the highest opposite-field mark that he’s ever hit in a season is 25.2%. Last year, it was 24.8%. That’s a significant jump and one that wouldn’t — by best estimate — be due to a smaller sample size out of the gate.
  • Finally, perhaps a product of the league’s overall tendencies, Machado is hitting significantly more fly balls and grounding out a lot less. His fly-ball percentage is 48.1%, a mark that would shatter his career high of 42.7%.

What do we make of all of this? It’s difficult to say. But whatever has worked, there’s been a difference in the way Machado has played this season. Does it have to do with an emphasis on launch angle and hitting the ball the other way? It’s possible. But one thing is for sure — the clock is ticking.

The question that begs to be asked is how long do the Orioles let the clock tick? The offers for Machado are going to happen before the deadline. It’s reasonable to think they’ve already begun. The decision is a difficult one — do you risk injury/performance decline and hold out until late July, or do you sell Machado when he is playing as well as he has for his entire career?

There are no clear answers. But one thing is for sure: Machado’s play certainly isn’t making any decision easy for any team.