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May 10, 2013

Pebble Hunting

A Week of Watching Manny Machado

by Sam Miller

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Last summer, when Ron Washington was asked about Mike Trout, he anticipated the questioner's tendency to overreact to hot young things: 

"He's not Willie Mays. No, he's not Willie Mays. He's a pretty good player. I think the comparisons, y'all got to stop. Let that kid play."

Now replace the name Mike Trout with Manny Machado, and replace the name Willie Mays with the name Mike Trout. No, Machado isn't the next Mike Trout. He's a pretty good player. He does things that make you wonder how soon he's going to be a great player, and whether he might be already. He's just a month older than Trout was last year, just six months older than Bryce Harper is, and, over the past week, he has done something tremendous every single game. That's not hyperbole. I watched every play he was involved in at the plate, at his position, or on the bases, and he did everything you would hope to see. And I hoped. Here's my checklist of stuff I wanted to see Manny Machado do in one week, and darned if he didn't get to just about every single one of them. 

  • Hit a home run
  • Hit a tape-measure home run
  • Hit a double
  • Go the other way
  • Adjust and beat a pitcher
  • Beat every possible pitch
  • Take a pitch
  • Flash his arm
  • React
  • Show good hands
  • Run
  • Outplay somebody better than he is
  • Do something heads-up
  • Be praised in absurd terms
  • Be charming
  • Be adorable
  • Get robbed
  • Mess up
  • Make an error face

And so here we go. 

Hit a home run

On April 30th, Ben and I mused about why there wasn't more hype around Manny Machado, who was something like 10th in baseball in the various total-value metrics but wasn't getting quite the attention that 20-year-old phenoms usually get. I theorized that it was that he wasn't a fantasy phenom, with just two homers and two steals. He homered the next day, and then he homered two days later, and then he homered the day after that. This was the second of those three, and it came against Tommy Hanson, who hung a slider. That seems like a simple enough thing to do, homering off a hanging slider. But Hanson had actually fallen behind 2-0 on Machado, who was seeing him for the first time and who, therefore, had never seen Hanson's slider. Destroying a 2-0 slider against a pitcher who you've never seen isn't not notable. Hanger or not, I bet Hanson was shocked that Machado swung at this one.

Hit a tape-measure home run

That's the 51st-fastest home run that anybody has hit this year. You saw the first one Machado hit land in the Angels' bullpen. This one landed in the visiting bullpen, which doesn't happen much. It was caught in a hat.

Hit a double

In six games, he didn't double. He's still third in baseball in doubles this year. 

Go the other way

"Once this young man figures out what kind of hitter he's going to be, he'll be very powerful," says Rex Hudler after this single. "He'll be taking that pitch out of the yard."  Eh. Maybe. He reminds me of Miguel Cabrera as much as anybody, and Cabrera goes to right field plenty. And a few hits like this will keep defenses from shifting against him; you can see from the infield alignment above that they want to cheat. This was more hard contact the other way, but an out: 


Adjust and beat a pitcher

The Orioles announcers, talking about Machado during the Angels series: 

Jim Hunter: What do you think that scouting report for the Royals is gonna be?
Mike Bordick: It’s kind of like Clemente: Throw him a breaking ball, just don’t do it twice. Don’t ever want to hang it. Come in, but don’t go back. Down and away, we might try that but that could be a triple in the corner. Meanwhile, you’re starting to perspire and you’re not gonna start for two hours. We’ve seen it all year long, you make a good pitch and come back with one that’s not as good he seems to be on it.

Two good examples of this against the Royals. Ervin Santana threw him an 0-1 slider in the dirt, Machado didn't identify it, and he swung wildly at it, shaking his head afterward. After a fastball to set up another slider, Santana threw a good one down in the zone, or down out of it. He got Machado to chase, but the hands stayed back and he put a much more compact swing on it:

The next day, Luis Mendoza got ahead with three sinkers low and in, two of which Machado swung at and fouled off. He went to the pitch a fourth time, same location, and this time Machado was on it—even though Mendoza executed his pitch and got Machado to go out of the zone. 


Take a pitch


Jim Hunter, after that pitch: You can see the poise of Manny Machado, how he continues to mature, by the way he takes pitches. 
Mike Bordick, after that pitch: Yeah, great taking indeed.

I mean, that seems convincing. 

Flash his arm

Every throw he makes is beautiful; quick release, generally perfect aim, and fast. But this play probably translates best to the medium: 

Alternative angle to appreciate how necessary his arm was in converting this out: 

React


Sorry Mike Trout!

Show good hands


Sorry Mark Trumbo!

Run

Outplay somebody better than he is

More from that piece about Mike Trout that I linked to in the first sentence of this piece: 

In Saturday's game, at third base, Eric Chavez sets up at the lip of the grass, guarding against the bunt. Chavez's positioning makes it less likely that Trout will try; on the other hand, it makes it more likely that Chavez will need reconstructive dental work. As the pitch comes in, Chavez sometimes breaks backward, the drawn-in setup just a decoy. This is a plan. Trout ruins the plan when he gets jammed and chops one softly toward Chavez. From his deeper position, the third baseman has no chance, and Trout flies into first for a hit.

Trout hits that soft chopper to Machado, too. He reaches first in 3.97 seconds, but Machado gets him: 


Make a heads-up play

It's not easy to do something heads-up every six days, and I probably wouldn't notice it if he did, so the bar for this is set pretty low. Still, I know that if I were the third baseman on this play


that I would have gotten as far as motioning for the left fielder to throw to third base; would have then stood there and watched the play; I wouldn't have remembered immediately to go back up the throw. Baseball is deceptively fast, and Machado was where he was supposed to be, so that's cool stuff.

Be praised with ridiculous fun facts and absurd hyperbole

Be charming

Lots of first basemen talk to lots of baserunners after a single. Some of us find the custom weird considering the players' adversarial relationship. Whatever. It's tradition. But after Machado gets a single, Eric Hosmer literally pats him on the butt. Watch the glove.

He pats his opponent on the butt. "Good job we were all pulling for you!" What a freaking charmer Machado must be.

Be adorable

The thing I like more than anything in baseball is watching baseball men do unnecessary tiny hops. The tinier the better. 


No need for that tiny, tiny hop. No need at all. Precious. 

Get robbed

Because he's got a .348 BABIP, and I don't want to think he's just getting lucky, so it's important to see him getting unlucky:

That scorcher was so hot it was literally smoking!

 

Or shook a cloud of dust free from Mike Moustakas' glove, but either way.

Mess up

This is an error that Machado made: 

It's spectacular. It had been raining that day, so the infield was slick. Did he have to field it barehanded? I never know, but 1) it seems possible that the ball skipped/spun faster than he was intending, and he might have 1a) had to or 1b) planned to grab it barehanded when he was expecting an easier hop than he got and 2) he did it! He totally did it. And then he threw low, and on the alternate angle (not seen here) you can see that it probably skidded under Chris Davis' glove because of the wet ground, and shoot for all we know he threw it wildly in the first place because the ball picked up some moisture off the wet grass. The point is that this is an error that contains a lot of wow, and but for some unfortunate circumstances and a rather ungenerous scorer's decision (not just error on the runners advancing, but on Gordon reaching first base in the first place) we would have a highlight instead of a blooper here. 

Make an Error Face

Machado actually engages in only one of the Error Faces, the Pebble Hunt, which is the noblest and most productive of the Error Faces, though in this case a bit absurd because no pebble could have possibly been to blame. 

While this error was hardly damning, there were other moments when Machado was slightly imperfect. He badly blew a run-down play; everybody knows, except Machado, that you follow your throw. There was a pop-up that landed on the dugout roof that Machado didn't even chase; the dugout roof is pretty close to catchable! There were a few balls in the dirt he swung at; there was a stolen base that would have been a caught stealing but for a wild throw; when Hank Conger bunted against the shift and tripped on his way to first base, he was safe partly because Machado gave up on the play. If there's anything to knock Machado on, it's that he's a bit too casual, a bit cool for school. But in six days of close examination, there will be errors, and there were.

I also saw: 

There's no point trying to decide right now how good he is, or will be. He's really good. He'll probably be better. There's probably, oh, a one in three chance? one in four? that he makes the Hall of Fame. But that would mean a two in three chance, or three in four, that he doesn't. I have no interest in getting more specific than saying his baseballing is pretty, and I'm attracted to it. He's a pretty good player. Let that kid play. 

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Manny Machado

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