Reviewing Manny Machado’s First Season in San Diego

Machado's first season in San Diego fell short of expectations, but should we expect that to be the new normal for Machado in the future?

2019 wasn’t supposed to be the season when the winning started for the San Diego Padres, but the team decided to supplement future winning teams in San Diego by shocking the baseball world and striking to land Manny Machado, signing to him a then-record free-agent contract. Even after the signing, the Padres were still viewed as a fringe-contender at best. Yet with a ton of young and exciting players expected to come up in 2019, and more on the way thanks to a top-of-the-line farm system, the Padres were exciting again. Machado was the headliner, the face of the franchise in this new era of Padres baseball. I live nearly 3,000 miles away from San Diego, but even I was excited and made a lot of plans to watch some late-night Padres baseball. There’s nothing better than seeing a young group grow and mature together, bolstered by two of the games top prospects joining the team for Opening Day in Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack, as well as a popular breakout pick in young slugger Franmil Reyes. You could see why there was excitement, even if the team wasn’t expected to win quite yet.

Things sometimes don’t go the way you plan. The team improved, from 96 losses to 92, and finished last in the National League West for the third time in the last four seasons. The team’s record-breaking signing, Machado, didn’t exactly live up to expectations in year one. In a season where nearly every hitter’s offense took off, Machado produced a .256/.334/.462 slash line, good enough for a .335 wOBA, a 108 wRC+, and 3.1 fWAR. Not a bad season, but far from the six-win seasons we would expect from a previous version of Machado. With the third base and shortstop positions being extremely deep this year for fantasy purposes, Machado was as polarizing as ever.  He could be viewed as somewhat of a sleeper, with some believing that he’ll turn it around in his second season in San Diego. Others felt he was overrated, believing that 2019 was just the beginning of the decline for Machado.

Whatever the case, the elephant in the room is where Machado plays his home games. We all know that Petco Park is anything but friendly for hitters. We had heard after Machado signed in San Diego was that he wouldn’t be able to match his production going from playing his home games nearly-exclusively at the launching pad of Camden Yards in Baltimore to the the caverns in San Diego. For the most part, those expectations were met:

Manny Machado: Home/Road Splits – 2019

 

Machado definitely felt the effects of playing in Petco Park. On the road, however, he performed at an extremely similar rate to his years as an Oriole. Now, the easy thing to do would be to say that Machado just could not be the same hitter that we knew and loved now that he’s playing the majority of his games in San Diego. A fair assumption based on the plain and simple home and road splits, but if we break out those overall splits down to a monthly level, we get a slightly different story:

Manny Machado: Monthly Home wRC+

 

While Machado got off to a horrid start in San Diego, I don’t think that’s necessarily super surprising to see that happen for a player who just signed a new contract. There is bound to be some period of transition. Overall, however, his home wRC+ continued to trend up each month, peaking with an extremely strong month of July before falling off a cliff. I’ll get into what happened in the last two months of the season a bit later, but for now, let’s hone in on Machado’s June and July.

Let’s begin by breaking out his June and July combined totals at home, and compare them to his metrics, both overall and at home.

Machado June-July Splits vs Overall Splits

 

Looking at these metrics, you could make the argument that even when Machado was at his best at home in 2019, he still under performed his expected stats. Even with a walk rate so low, he still was extremely productive. Yet what stands out to me immediately is his extremely low BABIP, even when he was going at his best. Despite him having an isolated power mark well over .300 at home in this span, a mark that places which was the sixth-best home ISO in this span, and a wRC+ of 122, Machado still maintained that extremely low home BABIP. For reference, here is a graph comparing the combined home wRC+ totals for hitters with at least 100 home plate appearances in June and July to their BABIP. Machado is the point in red:

 

 

 

While Machado isn’t the biggest outlier here, it is notable that only one other hitter, Edwin Encarnacion (the point down and to the right of Machado), had a higher home wRC+ in this span with a lower home BABIP than Machado. While BABIP certainly fluctuates, I do find it odd that even when Machado was going at his absolute best at home in 2019, he still had such a low BABIP. This piqued my interest to see whether Machado was an outlier in terms of past Padres hitters. I went back to 2015 to see what the lowest BABIP totals were for Padres hitters who had at least 220 home plate appearances in a single season. Here’s a table showing the lowest five:

 

Lowest Single Season Home BABIP – Petco Park

 

Out of 19 individual hitter seasons that had at least 220 home plate appearances in Petco Park, Machado’s home BABIP of .230 is the second-lowest to only Derek Norris. In addition, you will notice that hitters in this table aren’t exactly the greatest.  Hunter Renfroe‘s appearance here being the 2017 variety, which was his first full season in the Majors. For additional context, Eric Hosmer in his first two seasons as a Padre has had home BABIPs of .342 and .333, and I would say that Machado is definitely a better hitter than Hosmer, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Machado’s home BABIP rise to a better level in the future. Even Manuel Margot, who also appears alongside Machado in the above table as one of the hitters with an extremely low home BABIP, is also the owner of one of a .346 home BABIP, which came just a season prior in 2017. BABIP can sometimes be a flukey and noisy statistic, and 317 home plate appearances isn’t enough of a sample for Machado’s rate to stabilize, and I would be willing to bet that Machado will see some positive regression in this department in the future, as it is extremely unlikely that a hitter maintains a BABIP that low. After all, only one qualified hitter from 2019, Jurickson Profar, managed to post an overall BABIP less than .230, and even looking at hitters just at home, there weren’t many that had a lower home BABIP than Machado, evidenced by the table below:

Lowest Home BABIP – 2019 (min. 250 Home PA)

 

Machado had the fifth-lowest home BABIP under these criteria, and unlike a hitter such as Pete Alonso, who was able to hit a ton of home runs at home to mask such a low BABIP, Machado wasn’t able to work around it and be an overall productive hitter, although prior to August, Machado did have a 102 wRC+ at home, with a .248/.306/.470 line. While still not great, it is a lot better than his overall home slash line.

Machado showed that he could be successful at Petco Park, even with a comically-low home BABIP. While he may not ever hit like the hitter he used to be when he played the majority of his games at Petco Park, I believe that he can continue to be successful there in the future, especially so if his BABIP returns to a normal level. However, the final two months of his home performance sticks out like a sore thumb, and BABIP issues aren’t enough to explain it, so we’ve got to look a little deeper for this one.

What happened in August as a team for the Padres? First and foremost, Franmil Reyes was officially traded to Cleveland on July 31st. While the Franimal wasn’t tearing things up like some were hoping for, the Padres still dealt away a .255/.314/.536 hitter with a 116 wRC+ without an equivalent hitter stepping in to replace him. Then, the stud of the Padres lineup last season, Fernando Tatis Jr. was placed on the injured list on August 14th, and wouldn’t make another plate appearance for the rest of the season. This left the Padres lineup extremely thin, and sometimes looking like this, as it did on September 17th against the Milwaukee Brewers:

 

 

That’s right, that’s Nick Martini as the two-hitter. Machado would be the only hitter that I would be scared of as an opposing pitcher, as even though Renfroe’s slash line at this point has him with an extremely similar OPS, Renfroe himself was also in free fall in the second half of the season, managing just a 55 wRC+ from August onwards. Hitting in this lineup for a long period of time is a good way for a hitter’s counting stats to fall off, but for overall production to drop off, especially at an already tough home ballpark, which was definitely the case with Machado, especially coming off his best stretch of the season at home:

 

 

Out of 55 hitters to have at least 100 home plate appearances in both of the combined periods of June through July and August through September, Machado had the fourth-largest difference in wRC+, but this time, I don’t feel like BABIP is the main culprit.

Moving away from Machado’s performance at home and moving into a more general view, some odd things happened from August onwards. It’s not like Machado completely forgot how to hit in the final two months of the season. He was actually hitting the ball harder during the final two months of the season than at most points of the season, even more so than during his scorching hot June and July:

 

 

This corresponds with average exit velocity marks that were higher during the final two months than any other month in 2019:

 

 

Machado’s average exit velocity from the beginning of the season through July 31st was 90.6 miles-per-hour, but from August 1st through the end of the season, Machado pushed his average exit velocity to 92.6 miles-per-hour. These look like good signs, so then what gives?

Well, hitting the ball harder is great, but it’s not as great when it’s accompanied by an increase in ground balls:

Manny Machado – Groundball % Splits

 

While hitting more ground balls isn’t great, a five-percent jump shouldn’t translate to this ghastly performance from Machado. Along with hitting more groundballs, Machado really struggled hitting non-fastballs:

 

 

Machado actually was hitting fastballs pretty well in September, but everything else fell off, especially his performance on offspeed pitches, as the line completely disappears in September because he didn’t manage a single hit on pitches of that variety, and this is where the groundball issues come from, as his groundball rate on fastballs dropped in the final two months of the season, but the rate really jumped on the other two pitch types rising to 100% on offspeed pitches specifically:

 

Which is why, I believe, Machado saw a huge overall drop in his power production, despite hitting the ball with more authority:

 

 

But why was this the case? Machado’s walk rate jumped at this point in the season, peaking at 13.3% in September, which I think has something to do with those weakened Padres lineups that were being thrown out there daily after the loss of Reyes and Tatis. Pitchers perhaps felt okay pitching around Machado, and he may have been pressing late in the season when he was actually getting pitches that he could hit, wanting to do damage on them, but ending up hitting a lot more balls into the ground. I’m not 100% certain what to make of this, but I feel confident that Machado didn’t all of a sudden forget how to hit the ball late in 2019. Whatever the case may be, let’s at least admit that this final stretch of the season can be at least partially explained by some flukey activity and that the Padres lineup should be a much better one top to bottom in 2020, bolstered by a full season of a health Tatis and the addition of Tommy Pham projected to hit in front of Machado, I think that we can mostly ignore Machado’s final two months of 2019, or at the very least, admit that things weren’t normal on the whole. Subtracting Machado’s final two months of the season would leave us looking at a 2019 line that compares well to his pre-2019 lines:

Machado March – July 2019 vs. Pre-2019

 

Obviously though, you can’t just ignore nearly a third of a player’s season, but the point here is to show that prior to going into a perhaps flukish slump that happened at a time when the two best hitters in the team’s lineup disappeared, Machado was having a better season than his previous career average. Was it a perfect season? No. Could he have been better? Absolutely. Machado’s overall 2019 season was disappointing, but prior to the huge slump that he ended the season on, he was giving owners a perfectly good season, and that shouldn’t be overlooked going into a new year.

Those above statistics are also factoring in the crazy things happening with his home BABIP. Assuming that takes a change for the better in the future, Machado could even do better than that adjusted stat line suggests. The major projection systems still seem to buy in, with most projecting him to be inside the top-30 hitters in terms of slugging. While he may not be the hitter we’ve come to expect him to be, Machado should still be a truly productive hitter and I feel like we’ll see a better year two for Machado in San Diego (or Arizona) than we saw in year one.

Matt Wallach

Matt studied accounting at the University at Albany and graduated in May 2019. He is a lifelong fan of the New York Yankees and can always be found talking baseball on Twitter @Wallach18

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