When Manny Machado made his debut with the Orioles in 2012, many things changed. The callup from the minors for the then 20-year-old gave the team a much-needed boost in early August and helped push the O’s to their first playoff berth in 15 years. The Birds were 60-51 prior to Machado’s promotion, but went 33-18 afterwards.
At the time, the move was made as a bit of a necessity. The combination of Wilson Betemit and Mark Reynolds at third base was not working out defensively. A solid game in the field was one of the few things holding the Orioles back. Buck Showalter and Orioles brass made the decision to bring Machado up to the majors to solidify the defense. The question that went along with the move was the fact that Machado was a shortstop and the O’s needed a third baseman. Machado played 205 games in parts of three seasons in the minor leagues, but only two of those were spent at third base.
Despite Machado’s inexperience at the hot corner, he stepped in and made it look easy. Not only was the youngster’s bat impressive, his glove was showing that he had major league talent. Machado can not only make a highlight-reel play like we saw during his first All-Star Game this season, but he does the little things right, too. The instincts he shows while playing the field are second to none. It’s hard to remember just how young he really is sometimes.
The play Machado made against the Rays last season - to fake a throw to first and turn back to third and make a throw to the covering J.J. Hardy to tag out Rich Thompson - is the perfect example of his baseball smarts. Not only did the play keep the game tied at two in the top of the ninth, but Machado led off the bottom half of the inning with a single and scored the game-winning run.
The simple fact is that Manny Machado is now a third baseman. He’s not a shortstop, despite the fact that he was brought up as one. I have no doubt that Machado can play shortstop, but there’s simply no reason to change things up anytime soon. The O’s have Hardy holding down that position and doing it quite well.
This season, the Orioles have made the fewest errors as a team and have the best fielding percentage in baseball. They are on pace to break both the single-season record for fewest errors set by the 2003 Mariners and the single-season fielding percentage mark recorded by the 2007 Rockies.
Many of the experts who formulate baseball’s new-age statistics and sabermetrics will tell you that shortstop is the second-toughest position to play next to catcher. Third base ranks fifth of the eight non-pitcher positions on the defensive spectrum. That logic would tell you that having someone with Machado’s offensive production in the shortstop position is more valuable than having him play third base.
I won’t deny numbers or sabermetrics and what some of those statistics can tell us about today’s game. A lot of that information is helpful to front offices and general managers in making key decisions. There’s also something to be said about not messing with a good thing. Chemistry is a word that is sometimes scoffed at by some who only look at numbers, but when you look at a defense, it’s a vital part of a team. The Orioles have Hardy under contract through next season, but even looking beyond that and into the future, it’s hard to see why the Orioles would want to move Machado. Even if Hardy isn’t brought back once his contract expires, I don’t think it automatically means the team should move Machado over to shortstop.
There’s no reason to compare Machado to Cal Ripken Jr. or try to turn him into the Iron Man. Ripken played parts of four minor league seasons and totaled 453 games. He spent 174 games at shortstop, 278 at third base with one game at second base sprinkled in. The trend continued when Ripken played his first full season in 1982 and won the Rookie of the Year award. He split time playing 94 games at shortstop and 71 at third base. Machado’s career is obviously still very young. There’s no telling where things may take him or what the makeup of the team will be years down the road, but it’s no secret that things changed for this club because of the young third baseman.
Andrew Stetka blogs about the Orioles for Eutaw Street Report. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. 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.