Manny Machado had a great, first full season in the majors. He lit up the field with his bat and his glove as a 21 year old phenomenon. However, Machado had a poor second half offensively. His second half line was .240/.277/.370 for a paltry OPS of .647, which pales in comparison to his first half of .310/.337/.470 for an .807 OPS. I wondered what caused these struggles in the second half and if an answer to Machado’s struggles could be dug out in the numbers.
First, looking at the month by month data, Manny had a terrible July and September and a fantastic August. So it wasn’t a struggle through the entire second half. Delving further into the numbers I found some interesting trends. Surprisingly, his Strikeout Rate (K %) and Walk Rate (BB %) both improved in the second half, each by about a percentage point. However, Manny’s Line Drive Percentage (LD %) fell from the second half to the first half by 7.6%, from 23.6% to 16.0%. This drop in LD% was almost exclusively balanced out by a huge increase in Fly Ball Percentage (FB %) and Infield Fly Ball Percentage (IFFB %). Manny’s FB% in the first half was 28.7% and went up to 38% in the second half, his IFFB% increased by 3% in the second half as well. In fact, in the second half, Manny led the league in IFFB%, a sign that a hitter is struggling to make strong contact. All of this leads to more outs.
Through my eyes, Manny is so talented that he can make contact if he wants to on almost any pitch. While he was middle of the pack for contact rate in and out of the zone, it simply seemed to me Manny swung and hit a lot of pitchers pitches. This hurts Manny because he is not very selective. Since he swings at a lot of bad pitches to hit, he made a lot more outs in the second half. This leads to more fly balls, more infield fly balls, and less line drives.
The league figured out something about Manny—possibly that he’s not very good against Curveballs. According to pitch values Curveballs were far and away the pitch he struggled with the most during the 2013 campaign with a value of -3.3 runs below average. Or perhaps he struggles against a well located fastball. Manny mightily struggled against all pitches in the second half, with his worst being the Fastball. Macahado posted a -3.3 runs below average against fastballs during the second half. Struggling against major league fastballs is not a good trend for a young player. In the second half pitchers adjusted and Manny failed to adjust to their new style of pitching to him.
This thought reminded me of someone else—Starlin Castro. One look at Starlin Castro’s season will make someone ill. He had one of the worst offensive years in the entire league. He ended up being a negative value player with a Wins above Replacement (WAR) of -0.1. He ended up with a Weighted Runs Created (wRC+) of 70 (100 being the average). That’s the fourth worst wRC+ in the entire league last year. For the standard batting line, Castro hit .245/.284/.347 for an OPS of .631. That kind of season is especially alarming considering Castro’s early successes in his career.
Having spent some time in Chicago myself I knew that the Cubs and their fans were alarmed as well. The main conclusion from multiple sources is that Castro’s ineffectiveness was rooted in his lack of plate discipline and his immense talent to make contact. Castro swung and hit a lot of pitchers pitches and would therefore produce weak contact and more outs.
For one, Castro also struggled mightily against the fastball with a -8.6 runs below average ranking him 11th worse in the MLB. He only fared worse against the slider in 2012. Castro posted a 19.9 LD%, a 50.7 GB%, a 29.4 FB%, and a 7.6 IFFB%. All of those numbers are very close to Manny’s second half, save for Manny’s 16 LD% in the second half and the inflated IFFB%. In fact, if you look at Manny’s season in total, their batted ball numbers are nearly identical. The plate discipline numbers also reveals similarities between the two players. They both make contact 82% of the time, above league average, Castro swings at pitches outside of zone 32.6% of the time, Manny swings at them 30.8% of the time—both above league average. Castro swings at pitches inside the zone at 62.5% of the time and Manny 67.2% of the time—around to below league average. K% rates and BB% rates also reveal similarities, Manny strikes out about 3% less than Castro at 15% of the time, both around to below league average. They also both walked around 4% of the time, good for 9th worst in the league for Manny and 11th worst for Castro.
So what does that wall of numbers and text mean?
Manny struggled in the second half and, the much bandied about, Starlin Castro’s struggles reveal some similarities between those two players. There are some troubling trends for the young Machado. Frankly, the league adjusted to him—as it always does—and he is going to have to adjust to improve. Castro has struggled for the better part of two seasons and failed to adjust. Hopefully Manny does not have the same fate.
However, Manny Machado and Starlin Castro are not the same player. First and foremost, Manny’s defensive value will likely, even with marked offensive improvement from Castro, make him a more valuable player than Castro no matter what. Manny plays hall of fame level defense. Castro has posted a negative career UZR. Also, Manny’s power is way above Castro who has never hit for power in his career. This skill is also likely to improve as Manny ages.
Therefore, Manny Machado and Starlin Castro are not the same player. Manny had a poor second half at the plate that compares to Castro’s full season at the plate. So these are trends to look out for moving forward with Manny. He needs to take more walks, swing at better pitches, and improve against the Fastball and Curveball. This will lead to more line drives and less outs. It’s simple to say and harder to do and hopefully for Manny—and us fans—he adjusts.