Chris Davis leads Major League Baseball with 20 home runs, and he’s on pace to hit 57 this season. Across the diamond, Manny Machado leads the league in doubles with 25. Over at BaltimoreSportsReport.com, in our little corner of the internet, we have been debating the biggest surprise on the O’s roster this season. Is it Davis or Machado?
On Monday, Davis was named the American League Player of the Week for the second time this season after hitting .481/.500/.963 with four home runs and six RBIs. He is currently the AL’s leading vote-getter at first base and could become the first Oriole to start at first in the Midsummer Classic since Eddie Murray in 1985. Davis’ season has been something special. On Sunday, he became the fastest Oriole to record 20 home runs in a single season since Brady Anderson did so on May 29, 1996. Anderson finished that season with 50 longballs and 110 RBIs.
In 139 games last season, Davis hit 33 homers and drove in 85. He bounced around the diamond, playing 38 games at first base, 11 in left field, 29 in right field, 60 as the Orioles’ designated hitter and, of course, one as a relief pitcher. The majority of Davis’ 562 plate appearances came when he DHed. In that role, he hit 15 of his 33 homers, more than at any other position.
Admittedly, I was worried about Davis’ glove as the Orioles’ full-time first baseman coming into spring training. Boy, do I look foolish now. His .996 fielding percentage is the highest in the American League among first basemen who have played in at least 49 games at the position. The Orioles have turned 59 double plays this season, second most in the AL, and Davis’ stretches at first have been a big part of that production.
While this power surge has caught many off guard and even led some to wonder about Davis’ Triple Crown chances a third of the way through the season, I’m not shocked by his production. The power has always been there, but Davis has become a more patient hitter and eliminated most of the holes in his swing. He’s a full-time player who is locked down at a position, comfortable in the batter’s box and the perfect age for a breakout season offensively. I predicted 40 homers, not 57, but I’m not stunned by what he’s been able to accomplish so far.
I am, however, pleasantly surprised by Machado’s quick rise to dominance. The 20-year-old third baseman is three hits shy of the league lead, behind only Miguel Cabrera (83). He’s hit .327/.363/.506 over 57 games and has put up some stellar numbers in clutch situations for the Birds.
In 64 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, Machado is hitting .375/.417/.679 with 27 RBIs. With two outs and runners in scoring position, he’s hitting .409/.480/.818 with 12 RBI in 25 plate appearances. It turns out the “Baby-faced Assassin,” as Adam Jones calls him, is just the guy the Orioles want at the dish in a key situation.
Let’s not forget about Machado’s defense. His 10.9 UZR is the highest among any player at any position in baseball according to FanGraphs.com. He leads the league with 130 assists at third base and total zone runs with 12. The Orioles called upon Machado last season to help shore up their defense. This season, he’s not only done that but has been a key contributor as the number two hitter in Buck Showalter’s lineup.
Both Davis and Machado have greatly exceeded expectations so far this season, but I’ve been more surprised by Machado’s abilities as a guy who can’t even walk into a bar and order a drink. While Davis is hitting for even more power than I expected, I continue to be amazed by the adjustments Machado has made at the plate at such a young age.
Both surprises have greatly helped the Orioles in their 32-25 start to the season and the O’s will continue to rely heavily on both players as they look to return to the postseason.
Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.