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What the White Sox would get in Manny Machado

Elite hitting, elite defense at third, and, finally: a true superstar

MLB: World Series-Boston Red Sox at Los Angeles Dodgers
Pretty pretty please: If Machado signs, White Sox will finally have a superstar to speak of.
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

As the baseball world burns over the offer the Chicago White Sox made to Manny Machado ($25 million AAV? $31.25 million AAV? ... jeez, ESPN, can you at least get your own story straight), a reminder that it is still the only reported offer.

So while we’re not exactly photoshopping Manny into White Sox black quite yet — we’ll leave that to @MLB — and most of us are familiar with what Machado brings to the table, this superstar and potential Hall-of-Famer is too impressive not to dive into.

The Offense

Machado has certainly been a superstar over his career, especially since 2015. He is tied for the 28th-best wRC+ since 2015 (128) with players like José Ramirez and Carlos Correa. He has the eighth-most home runs (142) over that time span, 13 more than ninth-place Bryce Harper. In just about every offensive category for third basemen, Machado is right near the top. He has the second-most homers, behind only Nolan Arenado. He is tied for sixth in wRC+, and is just outside the Top 10 in batting average (.284, 11th). But to understand how truly talented Machado has been through age 25, just take a look at a White Sox leaderboard.

In his seven-year career, Machado would have the sixth-most home runs in White Sox history and the most home runs of any Sox third baseman. He has the same wRC+ as Paul Konerko, which is 23rd in Sox history, and Machado would have the highest wRC+ of any White Sox third baseman. It is not just that Machado is a current superstar — he would be an all-time great White Sox. We have never seen a third baseman on the South Side with a proven track record with his bat, and he seems to be only getting better.

Over the past several seasons, Machado is improving his approach at the plate. In 2018, Machado had a career-high (though it was slight) 9.9 BB% and 14.7 K%, as pitchers tried to steer clear of the strike zone with him. Opposing pitchers only threw 40.1% of pitches in the zone against Machado, the 17th-lowest in baseball. It is a slight weakness of Machado to swing outside the zone (32.2%), which is worse than average, but pitchers are mostly trying to stay away from the zone because of how dangerous Machado is in it.

Average exit velocity by Machado in each zone (MPH).
Baseball Savant

Machado played every game in 2018, and that helped him have the most hard-hit balls (95 mph-plus exit velocity) by a mile, with 257 according to Baseball Savant. In terms of percentage, Machado is still very high on the list, at 19th, with 48.2% of his batted balls measuring as hard-hit — right around the rates of Khris Davis and our boy Daniel Palka.

As you can tell by the heat map, the overwhelming number of those hard hits are coming from inside the zone, and thankfully, Machado is swinging more often inside the zone. In 2018, he had a career-high swing rate in the strike zone at 73.5%, just more than a 1% tick up from his previous career high according to FanGraphs. So even with him already being a superstar, Machado is still adapting to what pitchers are throwing him, which is one mark of a truly great player.

But how is Machado reading the strike zone better? Well just look at that blue line down below:

Machado’s barrel % in 2018 per pitch group (red is fastball, blue is breaking ball, green is off-speed).
Baseball Savant

What used to be a weak point for Machado is now a strength, as he has become a much better breaking-ball hitter since 2016. In fact, as you can see in the graph above, he barreled up more breaking pitches than fastballs in 2018. The slider is the pitch he saw the third-most last season, and he crushed it. He had a career high wRC+ of 142 against sliders, compared to 66 in 2017 and 94 in 2016. Machado even hit nine home runs, for an ISO of .269, against sliders in 2018.

Because Machado is so good, the comps for him in terms of wRC+ are basically a case of me, myself and I, but let’s have some fun with it anyway. Against sliders in 2018, Machado was basically 1984 Harold Baines. Meanwhile against curves, Machado was even better, with a 166 wRC+ and an even better ISO, at .292. Before 2018, curves limited Machado greatly — he’d only had above-average seasons against curves in two of six seasons, and was as bad as a -9 wRC+ in 2015. Alas, in 2018 Machado was able to hit curves like he was 1993 Frank Thomas.

Now, if you look at off-speed pitches in the graph above, Machado has been on the decline in terms of barrel %. Baseball Savant categorizes the main off-speed pitches as splitters, changeups, forkballs, and screwballs; Machado only sees the change regularly, so we can concentrate exclusively on that pitch. Guess what? Machado is not that bad at hitting changeups, either. He’s not been as good historically as he was against the changeup in 2018 (101 wRC+), and that performance was well below his average of 123 wRC+, but he is taking a new approach.

If you remember the brief mention that Machado’s BB% was up and K% was down, that’s because he has stopped swinging at the change. Compared to 2017, Machado swung at 9% fewer changeups in 2018. The biggest difference in that drop was the 11.2% decrease in swings on changeups outside of the zone, and as you can see in the heat map below, especially on changes away.

Machado’s 2017 swings against changeups on the left, and 2018 swings against changeups on the right.

The newfound patience against the change led to a 10.3% BB percentage, a 3.2% increase over his average, and a 10.3% K rate as well, a 6.1% decrease. He was unable to hit the change for much power in 2018, so it seems like Machado decided to get on base any way he could, rather than sell out for power on all pitches. Sounds like a team player to me.

But like any hitter, you need to hit the fastball.

Over his career, Machado has hit the fastball extremely well, with a 170 wRC+. But he was even better last season, with a 187 wRC+ and a .312 ISO. So, now this is fun, Machado against fastballs in 2018 was able to eclipse Albert Belle’s ISO (.308) in 1998 — his 49-homer, monster season. In terms of wRC+, the only full seasons in White Sox history that eclipsed 187 wRC+ were 1972 Dick Allen (199) and 1994 Frank Thomas (205). So yeah, Machado is good against the heat.

Unlike his approach vs. the change, Machado has decided to swing more often against fastballs. He swung at almost 50% of his fastballs seen in 2018, about a 2% increase compared to 2017. The new approach seemed to work, as his 2017 wRC+ (109) climbed up to 187.

One of the unsung positives of Machado, and one that goes against the likely racist assumption that he is lazy and not a team player, is his ability to stay on the field. Since 2015, Machado has played in 637 games, the most in baseball. That includes two seasons where he played all 162. He has gone to the plate 2,808 times during the same time period, 53 more than anyone else. What makes this even more impressive is he is doing it at two of the toughest defensive positions, third base and shortstop. He is only one of six third baseman and shortstops to play more than 600 games since 2015. On top of that, Machado is the only third baseman and one of three shortstops (Alcides Escobar and Freddy Galvis) to play 162 games in a season. And he is even pretty good at defense.

The Defense

Third base is and always will be Machado’s best position defensively — and he is one of the best. Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) is my preferred advanced fielding stat, and since FanGraphs has been tracing DRS (2003), Machado has the fourth-most at 84. The only third basemen ahead of him are Adrian Beltre, Scott Rolen, and Nolan Arenadovery impressive company. Since Machado entered the league in 2012, he is only behind Arenado, but that is more a factor of Arenado playing more innings at third base.

Others like to use Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), and Machado is right up there as well. Using UZR per 150 games, Machado has the seventh-best rate (10.5) since that stat started being recorded in 2002. In White Sox context, Machado is is 1.7 points below Juan Uribe and 1.3 points ahead of Joe Crede. Since Machado’s debut, he is only behind Uribe. So whatever stat you want to look at defensively, Machado is an elite talent, and if you watched the video above, my guess is you already knew that.

Where your eyes and the stats agree regarding Manny’s biggest strength on the field is his range at third. Since 2012, Machado leads all third basemen in range runs (RngR), with 36.9. He is 1.2 RngR better than Josh Donaldson, who has played about 600 innings more than Machado. Again, just watch the video, he can move around the hot corner like nobody else in baseball.

For those who are annoyed by Tim Anderson and Yoán Moncada, well, you may be annoyed by Machado, too, because he has 68 errors at third base. That places him 28th of 39 third basemen since 2012 (min. 2,500 innings). However, in using error runs, he is the fifth-best for third basemen. Why the disparity? Just use context clues: If Machado has the best range of any third baseman, he is getting to more baseballs than anybody else, therefore, the possibility of more errors.

And boy, is Machado getting to baseballs, as you can see in the spray chart:

Machado “made plays” spray chart as a third baseman from 2012-17.

Inside Edge Fielding stats are like any defensive stats, in that they cannot be 100% correct all the time and should be used with other stats, like range runs. This is straight from the FanGraphs library: “In a basic sense, each play is rated based on how often a player at that position has made a very similar play” There are six categories, based on likelihood (0%, 1-10%, 10-40%, 40-60%, 60-90%, 90-100%). In the 1-10% category, Machado is at a 9.6% successful rate, third-best for third basemen. In the 10-40% category, he is converting those chances at a 46.4% rate, second-best for third basemen. So yes, Machado has a lot of range at third, no matter what you look at. At shortstop? That is a different subject.

As a full-time shortstop in 2018, Machado was not good overall, and much worse compared to his ability at third base. He was the third-worst shortstop in terms of DRS, at -13, and he was not much better when using UZR per 150 games. However, most of the negative production came when he was with the Baltimore Orioles, where from the start of 2018 until he was traded, Machado had a -18 DRS. Meanwhile, with the Dodgers, Machado actually was able to find some form, as his DRS increased to 5 with L.A.

Now, you could argue that Machado was with a lousy team in Balitmore and thus did not care as much, but he was also a better hitter in Baltimore, so that argument doesn’t stick. What is more plausible is that the Dodgers are a far smarter ball club, and put Machado in a position to succeed at short, unlike Baltimore. Why? Well, the range runs for Machado sky-rocketed up after the trade. In Baltimore, his range runs were at a putrid -10.6, and in Los Angeles, it was at .2. That’s still not a great number, but a gigantic improvement. Overall, his UZR per 150 games went from -11.8 in Baltimore all the way to 2.7 with the Dodgers. Machado’s performance in L.A. alone would have placed him at 15th among all shortstops. He is nowhere near the defensive star at shortstop he is at third base, but if the LA Manny is the real fielder, he is a better defensive shortstop than Tim Anderson.

What does it all mean?

Manny Machado will bring a bat to the heart of the lineup that will put fear in opposing pitchers. His glove at third, should he play there, has not been seen since Robin Ventura, or maybe ever, and even his glove at short has shown it can be better than what the White Sox have had for quite some time. No matter what, the Sox will have a superstar. And that’s not just a “Chicago superstar” like Paul Konerko, but a baseball superstar, something we have not seen since this guy:

If Manny stays at third, which is the preferable option, there is not much of an impact for the rest of the organization. Yolmer Sánchez will finally move into the utility infield role that he has been destined for for some time now. Moncada could still take time at third base, but it will not be imperative to fill the offensive hole at third the White Sox have had since Todd Frazier left.

And there are really only three third basemen prospects in the entire organization. The two lower-level prospects, Luis Curbelo and Bryce Bush, are too far away to worry about — but they immediately become trade candidates. Jake Burger, with two injuries (or is it really one and then a re-injury?) to the same Achilles, plus the questions surrounding his defense at third base, should move to first, because his bat is still highly-rated. My guess is that since he was a first round pick, the White Sox will stick with him longer at a new position.

If Manny stays at shortstop, “everybody’s” dream of Anderson in center could come true, though Anderson also has a cheap contract and could be traded as well. This would mean Moncada probably moves to third base at least on a part-time basis in the upcoming season as he, or any of the above-mentioned third basemen will be in play for the long term. The Nick Madrigal experiment at short would also end, as he would come up the minor league ranks quickly as a second baseman. Laz Rivera automatically becomes trade bait sooner than later (at age 24). And, well, the White Sox do still have a lot of money. The Nolan Arenado watch would begin pretty quickly.

But hey whatever happens, let’s hope we see some of this on the South Side.