What if Manny Machado doesn’t ever post a season much better than this one? What if he’s already basically peaked, and will see a slow decline over what should be his prime years? What if this near 5 tool infielder and highly touted prospect ends up like, well, Hanley Ramirez?
This was the question posed to me by a friend, after taking a look at Machado’s phenomenal 2013 season.
It’s a fair question. Manny has improved over last season, which is a positive sign, with his batting average and on base percentage both seeing nearly .020 point increases. His slugging percentage is stagnant however, and a .030 point drop in isolated power should concern even the most optimistic of fans. While Manny has been able to put up a stellar 6.3 fWAR so far this season, his defense being the main driver of that. Machado has been spectacular, but there are some reasons for concern.
What is Manny’s ceiling? Discuss that on the BSL Forums here.
Hanley had a similar trajectory, though a bit delayed compared to Machado. In 2008 and 2009, his age 24 and 25 seasons, Hanley put up over 7 fWAR per season, becoming one of the best young players in the game. Hanley didn’t put up great defensive numbers over that time, but added more value on the basepaths than Manny has. Since then though, Hanley has struggled to put up the kind of numbers expected of him. In fact, he posted only 8.1 fWAR over the next 3 seasons.
Obviously Hanley has bounced back this season with an absurd 186 wRC+ which would be second to only Miguel Cabrera if Hanley had enough PA to qualify for the batting title. However, when he was traded to the Dodgers in 2012, few thought he would be the player that he once was for the Marlins.
So what if Manny follows a similar career path to Hanley? A few seasons of excellent performance, high WAR and impressive numbers across the board. Then? A drop-off. Can he put up defensive performances like he has this season every season for the next 5-6 years? Will his bat continue to develop and improve?
Hanley walked much more frequently than Manny early in both of their careers, and also hit for a higher average across the board. When it comes to walks, consider that Hanley has only had 2 seasons in his career where his walk rate wasn’t more than double the 4% walk rate Manny has posted thus far in 2013. Additionally, the increase in Manny’s batting average this season could be because of a bump in his BABIP, though it’s possible that he can sustain a higher BABIP given the increase in his LD% this year. Either way, his .288 batting average this year is better than the numbers Hanley has put up in just 2 of his 8 seasons as a pro.
Manny Machado and Hanley Ramirez are by no means the same player. While both are 6’2″ and play 3B there are obvious differences between the players. Manny’s defensive range is significantly better than Hanley’s, perhaps because he’s carrying 45 less pounds on a similar sized frame. Hanley was older when he debuted in MLB, and was more developed as a player and hitter when he put up his 7+ WAR seasons. He had also been in two organizations by that time.
Manny is a terrific baseball player. The season he’s put up in 2013 has been remarkable, and there’s no doubt that he’s been an incredibly valuable player for the O’s. The question is: would you be ok with it if Manny Machado has already reached his ceiling?