Play The Corner Like Ripken
It was a hot summer night in August when Manny Machado entered the hearts of Baltimoreans, hitting a triple for his first major league hit in Camden Yards.
The O’s drafted Machado in the first round with the third overall pick back in 2010. Originally, Machado was expected to be the future shortstop for the O’s, playing in 235 minor league games at shortstop, but after a number of players failed to provide some decent defense at third base, the O’s decided to slide Manny over. No one was sure on whether not the move would work, Manny only playing third base twice during his time on the farms (2010-12).
Fast forward to 2016.
Manny Machado, not only proved to everyone that he could play the corner but also be the best third baseman in baseball. Yes, Manny Machado is the best corner boy in baseball. I say this confidently not only because of his highligh reel of defensive plays but also the numbers.
Baseball is a game of numbers and have statistical categories for everything. I’m not one to use sabermatrics to prove my baseball opinions but I don’t shy away from it. One stat that I think is worthy of sharing is Machado’s range factor per game, which is putouts+assist divided by the numbers of games played. Machado is first among players with 15 starts at 3rd base, averaging 3.35 a game. (It should be noted that Manny has played 10 games at shortstop and has a range factor of 4.05). Range factor is just a stat to excite the baseball geeks but the important numbers like assist, double plays, and fielding percentage, Manny is top ten in all categories.
Machado’s .987 fielding percentage is second behind only Adrian Beltre(1.000, 34 starts) among players with 20+ starts. He is second in double plays (6) and 4th in assist (60). The Orioles haven’t seen this type of production at the corner since Cal Ripken.
The numbers don’t give you a good idea of how Manny truly is. Watching him throw a zinger from 3rd to 1st is like watching a bullet come out of a gun. Rarely do you see Manny throw a one or two-hopper to catch the baserunner - its a straight shot from his arm to the glove. As a true shortstop, his arm strength gives him an edge over other third basemen in the majors and makes batters run much harder when they grounder down the third base line.
Even though the O’s have been one of the best hitting teams in the majors since Buck Showalter arrived in 2011, he is very serious about players being able to play defense. If you can’t play defense, you won’t get many opportunities in the lineup. So when Buck decided to put a 19-year old kid at third base for 51 games, it was an early testament to how good Manny will be.
What made Cal Ripken an even better third baseman was his work at the plate, something that O’s fans have been waiting to see from Manny. Manny hasn’t been a terrible with the bat - a career .286 hitter - but consistency hasn’t been his greatest quality. In 2016, Manny has been on fire at the plate with a .365 batting average and a OPS of 1.147. He leads the league in 15 batting categories according to baseballreference.com, most notably doubles (15), hits (46), and total bases (91).
It’s too early to discuss MVP candidates. Manny is a top player in the majors, and currently a top 5 player. You have to mention his name with the likes of Trout and Harper as the new hot young talents in the MLB.