What Can We Expect From Manny Machado in 2015?
Things started off so well for Manny Machado.
In 2013, the 20-year-old Orioles third baseman burst onto the scene by hitting .283, with a .314 on-base percentage and a .432 slugging percentage, with 14 home runs and 88 runs batted in. He hit a league-leading 51 doubles, added 3 triples for good measure, and led the American League in at-bats with 667. He was off-the-charts good defensively, with 35 Defensive Runs Saved that year, fourth-most in baseball and tops overall at his position, earning him his first Gold Glove.
As a result, he had the 10th-best fWAR in baseball that year, worth 6.3 wins above replacement, made the All-Star Team, and finished ninth in the MVP voting.
Not a bad start. Unfortunately, that 2013 season would end in pain, as Machado suffered an injury to his left knee that required surgery that October. He missed all of spring training and didn't come back to the O's until May 1. He then tore a ligament in his other knee in August of last year, requiring surgery once again.
Two torn knee ligaments in two different knees in less than a year. For a 21-year-old. That ain't good.
Machado is said to be fully recovered from both knee surgeries and is expected to be a full participant in Baltimore's spring training. But it's fair to wonder if Baltimore, and fantasy owners, can trust Machado to become the young superstar he seemed to be trending toward.
Still, there are reasons to be bullish on a healthy Machado going forward.
Last year, in 82 games and 354 plate appearances, Machado hit .278/.324/.431 with 12 homers and 14 doubles, while continuing to play above-average defense at third. The 12 homers in 354 plate appearances last season is particularly exciting, when you compare it to the 14 he hit in 710 plate appearances the year before. That was just 2 fewer home runs last season in 356 fewer plate appearances.
His home run per fly ball rate (HR/FB%) jumped from 7.9% to 15.0%, and once he got the initial rust from missing spring training out of his system, he hit .328/.365/.522 with an OPS of .887 from June 12 through August 11 (a span of 192 plate appearances).
It seems pretty clear that, if Machado can stay healthy, he can be a productive player. So where would he rank among MLB third basemen in fantasy?
The above table shows all Major League third basemen from 2013-14 with at least 1000 plate appearances. Machado has the ninth-best OPS in that stretch, is tied for 13th in homers, 17th in runs batted in, 7th in batting average, 16th in on-base percentage, 10th in slugging and runs scored, and 6th in doubles. (Not listed above were a couple players who were shy of the 1000-plate appearance mark, Colorado's Nolan Arenado and Cleveland's Lonnie Chisenhall.)
Obviously, people are going to pass on Machado in fantasy drafts, worried that his knees won't hold up. But if you like taking risks and believe that the 22-year-old will make it through the season healthy, then he's got to be a top-10 pick among Major League third basemen, with the potential of being among the top at his position if his home run rate is what it was last year.