Zach Wilt: Manny Machado’s luck

One of the best moves that the Orioles made at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline was rather under publicised. Sure, Tim Beckham has shown his importance, earning American League Player of the Week honors for going 14-for-24 (.583) in his first six games with Baltimore. Jeremy Hellickson has been a solid addition to the O’s rotation, delivering quality starts in his first two outings against the Royals and Angels. But Manny Machado’s resurgence in the second half has been incredibly important in the Birds’ push for a playoff spot.

There was a lot of talk about Machado’s “struggles” in the first half of the season. I quote “struggles” because I think it’s all very explainable. Machado slashed .230/.296/.445 prior to the All Star break. He matched Jonathan Schoop for the club league in first half homers (18) and drove in 47 despite the low batting average. Coming into the season, many expected Machado to become one of the game’s elite players in 2017. I predicted that he would win the AL’s Most Valuable Player award after being a 6.7 WAR player in 2016. But this season didn’t start according to plan.

It’s my belief that Machado was plagued with horrible luck at the start of the season. Among qualified Orioles batters, he ranked last in batting average on balls in play (.239) in first half of this season. Trey Mancini led the O’s in batting average in the first half (.312) while recording a team-high (.385) BABIP. The league average BABIP in the first half was .299.

You could make a case, and many smart baseball people do, that BABIP is generated as much by the player as it is by luck. However, in Machado’s case, I don’t think that’s true. When you examine FanGraphs.com’s batted ball data for the first half, you discover that Machado led the team in hard hit percentage (40.2 percent) and still finished with the lowest batting average among qualified hitters on the team. That’s eight points higher than the league average hard hit percentage in the first half (32.2 percent).

In 365 plate appearances in the first half, Machado recorded the team’s highest walk percentage (8.5 percent) and second lowest strikeout percentage (19.7 percent) among qualified Orioles. He has actually been a more patient hitter this season than he was in 2016. How was Machado hitting the ball so hard and being patient at the plate, but still not seeing the offensive results we expected?

Baseball is a weird, frustrating game. Thankfully, it goes in waves. Machado and the Orioles are currently seeing the opposite side of it play out right now. Since the trade deadline, Machado is slashing .302/.295/.558. He is tied for the team lead in homers (three) and has over twice as many runs batted in (13) as the next closest Oriole (Beckham and Adam Jones, six). He’s done all of that with a .263 BABIP, still below the season average (.299). Surprisingly, Machado ranks near the bottom of the Orioles list in hard hit percentage (22.0 percent) in August. That’s just the way baseball goes.

You have to give Machado credit, while his numbers in the first half reflected those of a player struggling, he never changed his approach. He attacks pitchers the same way, hits the ball hard and remains patient. Now, it’s finally starting to pay off.

Led by Machado, Beckham and Schoop, the Orioles offense is finally producing the way we expected. In August, the club is 6-4 and has outscored their opponents 53-31. Could the Orioles be heading towards their first winning month since April? They very well may be and at just 1 1/2 games back in the wild card, this race could get very interesting over the next month and a half.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_wilt. 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.

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