Welcome back to your favorite weekly segment, it’s Patience or Panic once again! As we inch closer and closer to the postseason, who is hot and who is cold has an even greater impact as time winds down for these teams that are either holding on to a playoff spot or trying to steal one and sneak into the picture.
With that being said, our first contestant in this week’s edition of Patience or Panic is a key member of a playoff-contending team that we’ve discussed here before.
Manny Machado, 3B, San Diego Padres
The Padres are dangerously close to “Mets” territory right now. San Diego has lost ten of their last twelve games, including a series loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks and a sweep at the hands of the Colorado Rockies. As a result, they’ve fallen out of the playoff picture, allowing the Cincinnati Reds to take over the second wild-card spot in the NL.
One of the biggest reasons for this has of course been superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. dealing with injuries for extended periods of time, but Manny Machado has also not been carrying his weight over the last few weeks.
Since an August 11th loss to the Marlins, which kicked off the Padres’ skid, Machado has slashed .152/.200/.217 for a wRC+ of a truly dreadful 16. A reminder that 100 is league average. Over this sample size of 50 plate appearances, Machado has just one extra-base hit, a home run against Philadelphia on August 20th.
We could chalk part of this skid up to not having his fellow superstar in the lineup with him, but the fact is Machado has been playing in the same lineup as Tatis Jr. for ten days now and things aren’t getting better.
One thing that has changed for Manny is he hasn’t been hitting the ball nearly as hard as he was prior to this skid; his average exit velocity is down from 93.7 MPH to 89.6, a significant drop, and his hard-hit percentage (balls hit with an exit velocity of 95 MPH or higher) is down to 39.5%, compared to 54.2% up until August 10th. This probably is obvious but the softer you hit the ball, the easier it’s going to be for defenders to catch them.
Paired with Machado’s dip in exit velocity and hard-hit balls is also an uptick of balls hit in the air. From Opening Day until August 10th, Manny hit 40% of his batted balls in the air and only 12.4% of those balls in the air stayed in the infield. However, since August 11th and the start of his (and the Padres) skid, Machado is hitting 47.4% of batted balls into the air, and 22% of them are failing to reach the outfield grass. Not a great formula for success.
Sorry Padres fans, but there’s more. Since the start of this two-week skid and the drop in numbers, Machado has also gotten more aggressive with his approach at the plate, swinging 12% more overall. The bad news is that he’s swinging at not the best pitches, as there has been an 11% uptick in his swings outside the strike zone. And although he’s making contact with a lot of those swings, he’s not getting the greatest results due to the softer contact.
It’s probably something that can be fixed if he tightened up his approach at the plate a bit, and Machado is simply too good to be in this bad of a slump for much longer. After all, this is a guy who was getting some MVP whispers after he slashed .370/.444/.728 in July.
Our next contestant also comes from a team that has recently been knocked down a peg or two but not nearly as much as the Padres.
Rafael Devers, 3B, Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox’s fall hasn’t been nearly as drastic as the Padres, but it is still notable, as they fell from leading the division to a tenuous grasp on the second AL wild-card spot and fending off the Athletics.
Now, the Sox are on the upswing, as they’ve won six of their last ten and scored 19 runs in their last two games, with five games against Minnesota and Cleveland next.
However, if they want to maintain their hold on that last playoff spot in the AL, they have to continue playing well, and star third baseman Rafael Devers needs to pick up the slack because guys like Hunter Renfroe aren’t going to carry the team forever.
Over the last three weeks, Devers has slashed a middling .218/.301/.378 for a very pedestrian wRC+ of 81.
Compared to the .288/.361/.582 (148 wRC+) he put up heading into August, it’s a significant drop and the Sox have held on despite the drop in production from their All-Star.
The thing is, when you look at all the numbers, it’s hard to pinpoint something that could be causing Devers’ regression this month. But there is one thing: his contact is down a bit.
Entering August Devers’ hard-hit percentage (balls hit with an exit velocity over 95 MPH) was 53.7%, and over the last three weeks, that number has dipped to 38%. Because his soft contact percentage has gone down, Devers is not getting that elite exit velocity and so some fly balls or line drives that might fall for hits and homers before are now being caught at the warning track or tracked down in the alleys.
However, that’s really the only thing that stands out for the young third baseman. His strikeout percentage is down over ten percent, his walk rate has gone up, and his approach has also been good, as he is swinging five percent less overall and swinging outside the strike zone nearly ten percent less.
According to the available metrics, it looks like just a minor slump in a player’s young career. Almost all of Devers’ peripherals are at or around the same they were heading into August, and if Red Sox fans want another little anecdote, how about this: This month Devers is seeing about ten percent fewer fastballs than in July, which actually works in his favor. He’s hit .255 and slugged .480 against fastballs this year, compared to .298 and .653 against breaking pitches, as well as .333 and .650 against offspeed ones.