Can Drafters Cash In on Manny Machado’s Payday? (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
The saga has ended, and now we can finally talk about why Manny Machado is such a divisive player in not just real life, but the fantasy realm as well. We don’t need to dig into his perceived lack of effort, or if he plays the game the right way. What we care about in fantasy is that whether the dude will continue to be an absolute monster.
Much like the newly instituted pitch clock, not all parties feel the same way. While Machado is ranked 12th, and his ADP is 13th, his standard deviation of 4.3 is more volatile than Jacob deGrom, Aaron Judge, and Jose Altuve, all of whom are drafted as fringe first rounders. Consider this: Machado is tied with Mike Trout for seventh in all of MLB with 142 home runs over the last four years, ahead of Bryce Harper, Paul Goldschmidt, and the infamous Chris Davis. We know he can mash, we know he will hit at least .280, and we know he’s good for at least 180 combined runs and RBI. So, why aren’t we treating him like a de facto first rounder?
2018 Year In Review
Machado finished as a top-10 fantasy hitter, posting arguably his best season to date. After stealing nine bases combined over the previous two years, he got back to double digits with 14. More on that later. He tied his career-high in homers (37) and attained his career-high in RBI (107). While you think that team context in the second half may have had something to do with that, he actually had 57 RBI in the first three months of the year with the Orioles, before getting traded to the Dodgers. His spot in the batting order actually drove the career high. Machado played in every game and hit third in 116 of them, equating to a healthy 72 percent. Hitting third leads to more RBI than hitting second, which is where Machado mainly batted in 2017. Driving in so many runs while batting in front of guys like Craig Gentry and Tim Beckham is a borderline miracle.
He also had incredible plate discipline, posting a 9.9% walk rate and a measly 14.7% strikeout rate. Machado doesn’t post elite batted-ball types, but he certainly hits the ball hard. His average exit velocity of over 91 miles per hour ranked in MLB’s top four percent, and his 49% hard-hit rate ranked in the top six percent. Even better, his 14.4 degree average launch angle is a sweet spot for hitting doubles and homers.
Fantasy owners may be most concerned about his batting average, as it leaped from .259 in 2017 to .297 in 2018. Is that sustainable? Machado’s BABIP was an extraordinarily low .265 in 2017. That average was partly fueled by a four percent decrease in line-drive rate, all of which turned into ground balls. Counterintuitively, his hard-hit rate spiked four percent. However, the league average in hard-hit rate has been steadily going up, so this is not as much of a factor as it looks on the surface. With that said, his expected batting average was .282, so he was clearly unlucky in 2017. His 2018 average came with a .315 BABIP, which is in line with his batted-ball profile and his .291 expected average. While it may be tough to hit .297 in the NL West, his floor is more like .280. The dude just makes contact and hits the ball hard. We can live with that, but can we live with him calling Petco Park home?
Mo’ Money, Same Problems?
With spacious Petco Park serving as his new home, we must see how his power will be affected. In terms of Park Factors, Eno Sarris wrote up an article on The Athletic (subscription required) detailing how High Drives work and the best stadiums in which to hit them. Surprisingly, Petco ranked 13th on that list. Also surprising is that Dodger Stadium ranked first on that list. Maybe Machado has always called his home park a home run park up until now.
Even when considering typical park factors, Petco isn’t as bad for righties as it may seem. Petco is only two percent worse than league average at getting a hit, and five percent worse for righties trying to hit a homer. Petco actually ranks better than L.A. in this department. Of course, it’s not Baltimore. That would be silly. Baltimore is the second-best place to hit a homer, according to Sarris’ article, and is one of the best places to hit regardless of handedness, according to FanGraphs.
Clearly, we knew his park factors would be worse once he signed. We just didn’t know how bad it would get. Fantasy owners should be pleasantly surprised at how Petco stacks up to the league average. With that said, Machado has consistently hit about 33-37 taters a year. Fantasy owners likely aren’t getting 40 this year, but they can definitely bank on 30 with the potential for more. If Giancarlo Stanton can mash 59 homers at Marlins Park, the worst stadium to hit in, Machado will be just fine.
Before continuing, just one more point. While some fantasy owners will drool over getting nine games at Coors and nine at Dodger Stadium (who would’ve thought Dodger Stadium would be mentioned in the same breath as Coors?), he also has to go to Oracle Park and Chase Field, both of which are humid-orrible to hit in. Did that work? Nah, it didn’t. I’ll see myself out. The bottom line is his homers and average will most likely have a neutral impact on his overall outlook. If he can record 57 RBI in three months with the O’s, he should be able to replicate it with a worse park, but better lineup.
Speaking of that lineup! Roster Resource projects him to hit second, which is … interesting. With Wil Myers’ 20/20 abilities, he might be a candidate to hit second, with Machado batting cleanup and Hunter Renfroe ready to drive him in with some bombs. Machado starting out in the two hole would give cause for concern. Eric Hosmer hits 60 percent grounders; is this what you really want from the third spot? My crystal ball also says that Hos isn’t turning into Christian Yelich any time soon.
The most interesting part about all of this is the absolute glut of outfielders the Padres are carrying: Myers, Renfroe, Manuel Margot, Franmil Reyes, Franchy Cordero, and
Travis Jankowski that’s it. If the Padres are serious about contending, we can hope that one of these outfielders gets traded, but that’s a pipe dream. Lucky for us, the only real offensive downgrade would come if Manuel Margot started, given that he has a light bat with speed that plays best near the bottom of the order. Even with all this chaos, this lineup is fairly better than what the Orioles trotted out on a daily basis in 2018. To maximize his run and RBI potential, we want Machado hitting third. Let’s see if the Padres listen.
Before coming clean with a verdict, let’s get on our segue and chat about those steals I briefly mentioned earlier. Padres’ manager Andy Green takes his last name to heart, as the Padres stole the ninth-most bases in baseball last year. Of course, Machado did steal a grand total of zero bases in 2016 before getting back on the board with nine in 2017 and 14 in 2018. While his days of stealing 20 bases are likely over, he should easily get double digits here. This could be the silver lining to batting second.
Deposit Your Assets
We’ve covered it all – his new team, his batted-ball profile, how he will style his hair on Wednesdays, et al. It seems that some members of the fantasy community are afraid of his low totals in certain categories over the last couple of years (zero swiped bags in 2016, that .259 average in 2017) and are afraid one of both of those things repeating in 2019. While Machado is definitely a top-10 hitter in this game, he also has less upside than most of the guys going in the first round. If Machado can hit near .300 while stealing double-digit bases and combining for 190 total runs and RBI, he’s still worse than Yelich. If he doesn’t do those things, his value falls off considerably.
The value in Machado lies in his floor, not his ceiling. We know he is good for those mid-30s homers, a great-not-elite batting average, tons of counting stats, and potential for 15 stolen bases. While most of these things can be found in the first round, it’s tough to find them after Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Jose Ramirez, and Yelich. Sure, J.D. Martinez and Nolan Arenado will likely outdo him in average and counting stats, but Machado’s potential for steals is one thing that those two do not have. His best comp is Alex Bregman, who is going two spots later. He can even be compared to Ronald Acuna, especially if Acuna isn’t leading off.
While Machado has had surgeries on his knees, he has played in 156 games in each of the past four years. He is a pillar of health, and while we know his ceiling isn’t as high as Acuna or Ramirez, we do know what we’re getting. If you are in a roto league, you should take Yelich, Trea Turner, and potentially Acuna before him, which means that you’re picking Machado at the wheel. In a points league, Machado’s excellent plate discipline pushes him above Acuna and Turner, and depending on what you think of Yelich’s likelihood of repeating his power breakout, you could take Machado instead.
While you don’t usually win your league with your first-round pick, you can certainly lose it. You probably aren’t losing it with Machado’s floor, so depending on your league’s context, consider him in the first round.