Manny Machado Is Hitting Too Many Ground Balls

We're two months into the season, and Manny Machado is still struggling at the plate. To get back on track, the Orioles' star needs to stop putting the ball on the ground so frequently.

Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado is one of the best young players in baseball, but he sure has dealt with a couple tough months to start his 2017 campaign.

Once we could officially put the month of April in the books, Machado's .224/.343/.424 triple slash (to go along with a .331 wOBA and 106 wRC+) through his first 102 plate appearances wasn't exactly what we were expecting from him. However, based off some of his batted-ball data, we could look forward to much better times ahead.

Those better times haven't come just yet, as his season-long batting line currently sits at just .210/.292/.415 through 219 plate appearances. If we take another quick glance at his batted-ball data, he's still hitting the ball hard rather often (41.6%) and is limiting soft contact much more than last year (17.4% in 2017, 21.7% in 2016), while his 44.3% fly-ball rate is right in line with what he accomplished in 2016.

So, what's the problem? It's ground balls -- Machado is hitting way too many of them.

Too Many Ground Balls

If we're looking at the types of balls Machado has put in play over the course of this season, it's pretty easy to see that while his fly-ball rate (FB%) looks good, the depressed line-drive rate (LD%) and elevated ground-ball rate (GB%) isn't a recipe for success, even with an improved hard-hit rate (Hard%). The below table displays how these percentages have changed each year since 2015.

Year LD% GB% FB% Hard%
2015 17.8% 43.7% 38.5% 33.1%
2016 20.0% 37.3% 42.7% 35.4%
2017 11.4% 44.3% 44.3% 41.6%

His .223 BABIP seems way too low when looking at some of his 2017 stats and his career .304 mark, but it shouldn't be all that surprising -- especially when we break down the same batted-ball data into what he's accomplished in April and May.

2017 LD% GB% FB% Hard%
April 17.6% 33.8% 48.5% 51.5%
May 6.2% 53.1% 40.7% 33.3%

It's really hard to have any kind of success when you're hitting ground balls over 50.0% of the time, and pairing that with hitting line drives at such a low frequency. It does make Machado's Isolated Power (ISO) of .209 in May rather impressive, though.

Not Enough Line Drives

If there's anything the fly-ball revolution has taught us, it's that ground balls are bad for power hitters. Like many players of his caliber, Machado has never experienced a ton of success on ground balls (career wRC+ of 44), but he's getting unlucky there, too.

Despite an uptick in hard-hit rate across the board in each of the three types of batted balls we've been discussing, the third baseman hasn't seen the kind of results he's used to experiencing.

The below table shows the third baseman's wRC+ on each batted-ball event since the 2015 season.

2015 338 52 189
2016 369 38 189
2017 242 15 178

So, ground balls clearly bring the smallest amount of success Machado's way, and he's hitting them more often than in recent memory at the expense of line drives, the batted ball that brings him the most success.

After experiencing a fair amount of bad luck throughout the month of April, he's spent most of May not elevating the ball like he normally does. This is easier said than done, but for him to finally bust out of his season-long slump, he needs to start hitting the ball in the air more often.