(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)
When the Detroit Tigers announced that Dixon Machado would be taking over as the team’s starting second baseman, I, like most Tigers fans, was skeptical. Machado’s brief exposure to major league pitching had not gone well, and there was nothing in his minor league profile to indicate that he would be anything more than a below replacement level hitter. He seemed destined to be a light-hitting utility infielder who would provide solid glove-work around the infield, and little else. Certainly not any fantasy value outside of AL-only formats.
Based on what we’ve seen so far in 2018, I was dead wrong.
You might be looking at Machado’s .211/.269/.366 slash line and 71 wRC+ and be thinking, “Wait a minute Andy, you’re never wrong – and it looks like you were spot on yet again!” To which I would say thank you, that’s a very good point, but then I’d direct you to the following chart:
That’s right, through the first 19 games of the season, Dixon (not Manny) Machado has the ninth highest hard hit rate in the league.
Machado’s dramatic improvement obviously comes with the normal April caveat, that his sample size is quite small. Additionally, while his hard hit rate is elite, his exit velocity is 89.81 mph, only slightly above the league average.
However, going deeper (ha) into his numbers, it certainly looks like he has made dramatic changes to his batted ball profile. See the chart below. His 2015 and 2016 numbers are obsolete, as he only had 78 combined at-bats in those two seasons. The differences between 2017 and 2018, however, are striking.
In addition to all of these changes, Machado has also made slight improvements to his walk rate (6.4%) and his strikeout rate (14.1%). So why, after seemingly making every possible improvement to his batted ball profile, is Machado’s offensive output even worse than last year?
The obvious answer lies in his BABIP. In 2017, despite very pedestrian batted ball numbers, Machado posted a .311 BABIP, slightly above the .300 average around the league. In 2018, Machado’s BABIP is a paltry .233. The cause? Unclear.
Slow base-runners tend to have lower BABIP’s, but Machado’s foot speed of 27.4 ft/sec is slightly above the league average. So that’s not it. An unusually high rate of infield fly balls would do the trick, as that is the ball in play that is least likely to generate a hit. However, Machado’s 9.1% infield fly rate is down 3% from 2017. So that’s also not it. The likely cause here is just a combination of some early season oddities, and the cold weather. Basically, there have been a handful of at-bats where Machado absolutely scorched the ball, right at an opposing fielder. Baseball Savant shows Machado has hit three balls over 100 miles per hour this season that all went for outs. Case in point:
Hard to say if the snow had any impact on this ball, but one can imagine that on a good weather day that this ball would be a double off the wall. Instead, a perfectly located Leury Garcia calmly hauled it in for a harmless out.
So should you race out and grab Machado in all fantasy formats? No, not exactly. A second baseman hitting .211 who is hitting eighth in a struggling Tigers lineup is still not fantasy gold. However, Machado’s batted ball profile certainly indicates some positive regression is coming his way. A struggling lineup could indicate a move up in the order, as Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire indicated earlier in the offseason that they view Machado as a future leadoff hitter. Incumbent leadoff man Leonys Martin is having a solid season, almost guaranteeing that the Tigers will trade him at the trade deadline. Machado could easily slide into the leadoff spot at that point, if not sooner. If he keeps hitting the ball hard, they’ll start to fall.
I’d be scooping him up in any format with 14 or more teams, and of course any AL-only format where he is still available. A move up in the batting order should help Machado score more runs. Although he has yet to swipe a bag this season, he posted five minor league seasons with over 15 stolen bases so the potential is there. Machado has the profile to post 8-10 home runs and 15 stolen bases. A rebuilding team should give him every opportunity to succeed, and for those reasons he’s worth a look in deeper formats.
The Exit Velocity data is even more encouraging. He’s increased his EV on LD/FB from 89.4 MPH in 2017 to 94.4 MPH (28 LD+FB in 2018, and tends to “stabilize” after 20 LD+FB). Overall launch angle has gone from 3.9 last year to 11.5 this year. And as you mentioned, he’s walking more and striking out less. He’s swinging more at pitches within the zone, swinging less at pitches out of the zone, and making contact on pitches within the zone a rate of 95%!!
In short: he’s become a power hitter with elite contact ability and an elite batting eye. I picked him up a couple weeks ago in both of my 15 team NFBC leagues and I’m very bullish on him. I’d grab him in 12 team leagues as well. No sense in waiting for the BABIP and HR total to catch up to the skill he’s already displaying. I wouldn’t be surprised to see .280 and 20 HR / 10 SB at the end of the season.
Excellent article, fascinating read as a Tiger fan. I have noticed exactly what you write about. he’s been hitting the ball well!
Superb read, I would not have ever expected this Machado to have that high an exit velocity. I love these stats
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