Since Aug. 1, the Orioles are 20-15 and have outscored their opponents by 38 runs. This turnaround was not forecasted by many, as the Birds were a season-high seven games under .500 on July 16 and had slipped to 4 1/2 games back of a wild card at the end of the month. Their August turnaround came at the perfect time and would not have been possible without an incredible breakout performance by Manny Machado.
Up to that point, it had been a hard-luck season for Machado. Entering July, Machado was slashing .216/.289/.423 with 15 home runs and 38 RBIs. I never lost faith, though, as I figured his .226 batting average on balls in play combined with one of the team’s hardest hit percentages meant that he was bound to break out soon. Now that time has come and his team is reaping the rewards.
Machado was the American League Player of the Month in August after slashing .341/.348/.690 with 12 homers and 35 RBIs. He drove in five more than the league’s next closest player (Adrian Beltre) and propelled the Orioles to within 1 1/2 games playoff spot. Without his efforts, the O’s would likely be playing more of a spoiler role than a contender.
Of course, where would the Orioles be this season without Jonathan Schoop? The All-Star second baseman has kept their season afloat all year with his breakout performance. Schoop’s increased plate discipline combined with increased power have made him one of the league’s best players. Among O’s players with at least 180 plate appearances, Schoop is the team leader in batting average (.306), slugging percentage (.541), runs (86), RBIs (102), and advanced metrics weighted on base average (.374) and weighted runs created plus (134). Schoop already has six more home runs in 2017 than he had in all of 2016 and 20 more RBIs. It has been a career year in every sense for the 25-year-old. He hit the ground running in April, slashing .288/.326/.538 and the league hasn’t been able to stop him. Schoop has hit better than .300 in every month from June on.
So who is the team’s MVP? Is it the guy that propelled the team back in contention or the one that has consistently carried the club all year? While Machado’s numbers since July have been impressive, Schoop has not missed a beat at the plate.
Some of this debate depends upon your definition of “most valuable.” We see this discourse pop up every year when MVP votes are cast or results are distributed. For me, the “most valuable” player has always meant “the best.” Perhaps that’s an oversimplification. An incredibly easy metric for determining player value, wins above replacement, lists Schoop just above Machado this season (4.1 to 3.7 in fWAR). If you want to make the case that “most valuable” means the guy that did the most to help his team, you could point to Machado’s 1.6 WAR in August, the highest of any Orioles player in a month span except for Tim Beckham, who led the O’s with 1.9 WAR last month.
Are Machado’s efforts in August, the month the Orioles won more games than any other and leaped forward in the standings, more valuable than Schoop’s all season? That’s up for you to decide. What I do know is that this is a team game. The Orioles rely on players’ hot streaks as much as they depend on year-long consistency. The 2017 playoff race is exciting this month because of how this season unfolded over the last 140 games. Maybe someone unexpected will jump out in the last 22 that propels the O’s into October. Then the debate will really be on.
The best part of this discussion is that Machado and Schoop are 24 and 25, respectively. Machado is under team control through 2018 and Schoop is through 2019. There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Orioles past this season, many spots to be filled and questions to be answered. What’s consistent are these two, and they are the core that I hope the Orioles are able to build around for seasons to come.
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.