If you can get a sense of the pulse of the Orioles fan base listening to sports talk radio and reading the comments on these blogs, then the move of Manny Machado to shortstop is playing to mixed reviews.
On the plus side, some fans are down with the fact that the team is taking its best defender and putting him at a premium defensive position.
On the down side, some fans seem to feel the club gave in to the player’s desire to move to shortstop for his final season before free agency.
Let’s take a few minutes to look at some of the ramifications of moving Machado to short.
The impact on the left side: No doubt, the Orioles likely strengthened their defense at the position, but weakened it at third. That is not to say that Tim Beckham can’t become a reliable defender - and maybe in time even a plus defender at third - but no one can match Machado over there. On the other hand, Machado will handle the ball so much more playing shortstop. There is a reason teams play their best infield defender there.
In the American League last year, the top three shortstops in total chances handled 755, 685 and 685 chances. The top three third baseman handled 454, 425 (which was Machado) and 375. So getting Machado to touch the ball over 200 more times in 2018 is not a bad thing. According to FanGraphs stats, the major league leader in defensive runs saved at third last season was Colorado’s Nolan Arenado with 20. The leader at short was the Angels’ Andrelton Simmons with 32. You can have a greater defensive impact playing shortstop. Said another way, Machado will have more chances to help the team on defense at short.
He can help the defense with his glove and arm. He may get the chance to make more relay throws from outfielders and also team with Jonathan Schoop to provide two big-time arms to get more close outs at first base to close out 6-4-3 and 4-6-3 double plays. Machado was drafted as a shortstop, played it on the farm and played it very, very well on the farm. I say he can and will do it again but it might take some time.
How will this impact Machado’s offense?: We’re going to find out and this should certainly get consideration. But in the small sample we have so far, he actually has hit better when he has played short.
For his career, Machado is a .279/.327/.472 hitter with an OPS of .799 in 3,144 plate appearances at third base. He is a .274/.344/.538 hitter with an OPS of .882 in 221 plate appearances when playing shortstop. Yep, not a huge sample, but it didn’t hurt his offense in those instances.
Yes, but isn’t shortstop more physically and mentally demanding?: It certainly is. Over the long season, it could impact Machado’s offense, the stats we just posted notwithstanding. So we’ll see. Some have concerns about his surgically repaired knees. Others say he has moved past that and is so young that it will not be an issue.
Also we got spoiled by J.J. Hardy, who just never lost concentration at shortstop. It never wavered, it seemed, on a single pitch. This is not a position where you can let your guard down for a second. Hardy never did or so it seemed. But Machado had to develop a certain concentration level at third, as well. It’s not like that was a vacation. But we’ll see how he holds up playing such a demanding position. It might prove to be more challenging than even he knows since he’s never played the position full-time at the major league level.
Is Machado taking a risk here?: That is an interesting question. He may be. What if - and I doubt we see this happen - he struggles with the glove at short and plants the seeds of doubt for potential future employers that he can handle it there? What if potential free agent suitors decide they can’t play him there? Again, this is unlikely to happen and the opposite could very well prove true. That he will show himself as a plus or even plus-plus defender there and a team can sign an impact bat at a premium defensive position. Ka-ching! That was the sound of a cash register. Even if Machado struggles some at short, he is still in line for a massive payday after the 2018 season. No need to feel sorry for him.
Is the team giving into Machado here?: Some believe that. I don’t exactly see it that way. Again, playing your best defender at short is not exactly a bad thing for any team. He can help the team win games with his glove, as we know. But there is a segment of the fan base that is skeptical and questioning of the move. It comes at a time when they are restless over the lack of rotation additions to this point. And then throw in the fact that Machado and Schoop missed FanFest. It seems to only add fuel to the fire of an already stirred up fan base.
Fans have a right to question any moves the team makes and some are questioning this one for some of the reasons mentioned here. But I have always felt Machado was going to go back to shortstop one day. And then he was going to show how good he can be there, too. Will he win a Gold Glove or Platinum Glove at short? Maybe not, but the competition for that is tougher at short.
Beckham has a chance to be solid at third. If, at some point, Machado is traded, Beckham can move back to shortstop. In the meantime, he can feel good about the fact that it looks like he may have something in Baltimore he never truly had in Tampa Bay - regular playing time.