Has Manny Machado Entered the Conversation As the Best Player in Baseball?
This makes sense. Given that Trout and Harper have both won MVP awards and continue to be incredibly productive players, it's widely assumed the debate essentially comes down to those two players.
But as Yoda once said, "There is another."
You can make the argument that, with the move to shortstop, Manny Machado deserves to be in that conversation as well. Moving from third base to a premium position like shortstop only increases his value, and judging by the numbers, it would be foolish to rule out Machado just because his name isn't Trout or Harper.
Heading into Tuesday, Machado actually had a higher fWAR than either Harper or Trout, and also had a superior batting average, slugging percentage, weighted runs created, runs and RBI and was tied in homers with Harper. The only area in which Machado had worse numbers was in on-base percentage and, hey, .387 ain't bad, right?
But only looking at the month and a half of the 2016 season doesn't really do any of these guys justice. Let's incorporate last season's numbers as well.
According to these numbers, Trout is still the best player in baseball, by just a hair over Harper. Since the start of the 2015 season, Trout has slightly more fWAR than Harper, while Machado is about two wins behind, although his 9.3 fWAR is fourth-most in MLB. But remember, Machado was a third baseman all last year, which affects his wins above replacement numbers.
As noted by Baseball Refrence, different positions on the diamond are calculated differently in terms of WAR. There are certain spots on the diamond where teams are more willing to trade offense for defense, with shortstop being one of them. The average offensive numbers for a shortstop are less than those of a third baseman, and the position is more challenging defensively.
Here are the league average numbers for both shortstop and third base so far this season.
As you can see, the average third baseman in baseball is an above average run producer, while shortstops are below average. Therefore, if Machado makes the smooth transition from third base to shortstop while maintaining the production of an above average third baseman, his value increases exponentially, making him a more valuable player than he already was.
While Harper and Trout are probably still the two best players in baseball, if Machado can stick at shortstop without hurting his team defensively, he deserves to enter the conversation.