AL East Beat: Manny Returns, April Progress Reports

21 year old third baseman Manny Machado has looked like he belonged on a Major League Baseball field since his surprise call up as a 20 year old rookie during the Orioles’ miracle playoff run of 2012. Actually, that’s where it all began as Machado skipped the triple-A level, changed his position, and actually managed to contribute despite that limited experience. His 2013 season saw him finish 9th in the MVP race and lead the league with 51 doubles. His offensive game was inconsistent. While he showed power with those 51 doubles and 14 home runs, he posted just a .314 on base percentage. He walked just 4.1 percent of the time. For perspective, the league average was 7.9 percent. Despite that impatience, the presence of Machado has solidified the Orioles on many levels.

{Discuss Machado and the AL East on the BSL Board}.

While the world has been rightfully obsessed with Mike Trout and, to a lesser extent, Bryce Harper, Baltimore has been infatuated with their own budding superstar.  Despite that impatience, Machado is a talented offensive player who projects to be an above average power hitter. In the Minor Leagues, Machado produced over 10 percent in his last two seasons. His Major League strikeout rate is quite similar to his Minor League rate. That essentially spells a hitter who will improve as he matures. 

None of that includes his elite value on the defensive side. Every metric showed Machado as the best defender at the hot corner. In fact, his 2013 defensive runs saved of 36 was fourth best in the entire sport, trailing only outfielders Gerardo Parra and Carlos Gomez, and shortstop Andrelton Simmons. No American League third baseman was even close to that total. 

All that is what made September 23, 2013 so devastating. The promising, young career was potentially derailed because of an awkward hit of first base. As Machado was taken off the field, the brilliant season was tainted as the young player with infinite possibilities now had the reality of coming back from a major injury.

Injuries are terrible no matter who gets hurt. But, Machado was different. After nearly two decades of losing, the Orioles finally got back to the playoffs. It was Machado who came up during that run and made an immediate impact. As the Orioles took on the Yankees during a classic playoff series, Machado’s youth and promise juxtaposed Alex Rodriguez’s tainted career. The Orioles’ present and future is all wrapped up in Machado. 

Machado returns to a team that is in second place with a 13-12 record. He returns to a team that ranks 14th in the American League according to WAR value received from their third basemen. While Machado wasn’t above average in terms of on base percentage, he is much better than the .268 OBP that the Orioles corner men have produced. And, he is certainly better than the .329 slugging percentage their third basemen have compiled. That slugging percentage ranks last in the American League. 

The lineup will certainly be better with Machado in it. His return is also well timed with Chris Davis hitting the disabled list for a month or so. His biggest impact will be felt on defense as the Orioles’ third basemen rank 13th according to defensive WAR. They have zero defensive runs saved. They’ve also committed five errors, third most in the American League. 

Manny Machado isn’t a savior. Baseball players don’t have that type of impact. But, a healthy Machado gives the Orioles one of their advantages back. In addition to the power, the Orioles now have their defense back. Machado is the best defensive third baseman in the league. His presence only improves JJ Hardy, one of the better defenders at shortstop. For a team that plays in the most competitive division in the sport, they must use the defense to its advantage. 

Chris Davis is the Orioles best hitter; his presence and production will be missed. But, the return of Machado gives the Orioles “their guy” back. He is not only an excellent young player, but he is their face. He is the player who will lead them over the next decade. As he took the field for game two of a double header against the Pittsburgh Pirates, his comeback from a devastating injury is complete. He’s back on the field and he’ll look to build off of his 8 for 12 rehab game performances. He’s already solidified the defense. He’ll improve the lineup. The Orioles are not only better, but Major League Baseball is better with one of its brightest young players back on the field. 

April Progress Reports

New York Yankees: Progressing Satisfactorily

The Yankees have lost Ivan Nova for the season. Michael Pineda followed up his suspension with an injury and will miss about a month. Mark Teixeira missed most of April. Closer David Robertson also missed most of the month. Yet, they finished April in first place with a 15-11 record. Their -11 run differential is a bit misleading considering they’ve lost two games by a combined score of 29-1. Offensively, the Yankees rank in the middle of the pack in on base percentage, slugging percentage, and home runs. They rank just 7th in team ERA and have three rotation members with ERA’s north of 5. 

Masahiro Tanaka has been even better than his advanced billing as he has posted a 2.22 ERA (2.97 FIP) in 35.2 innings while allowing 27 hits, just 6 walks, and 46 strikeouts. He’s the ace everyone in the league feared he would be. 

The Yankees also have the best bullpen in the division as Shawn Kelley, Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Matt Thornton, and David Robertson all have ERA’s under 2.40. Betances has struck out 23 in just 13 innings. Yankees’ relievers are second in the American League with a 26.1 percent strikeout rate. 

Baltimore Orioles: Shows Effort, Has Difficulty With Subject Matter

The Orioles finished with a 12-12 record and just two games behind the Yankees. That was done despite hitting just 17 home runs in the month and ranking 11th in on base percentage. Even more miraculously, they won 12 times despite ranking 12th in team ERA and Ubaldo Jimenez making six pretty awful starts. Even worse, the bullpen ranks last with a 16.1 percent strikeout rate and 13th with a 4.59 FIP. The rotation also ranks 13th with a 4.58 FIP. 

While the defense has regressed a bit, they still field one of the better teams in the league. They’ve managed to stay at .500 because of Matt Wieters (.338/.370/.554) and Nelson Cruz (.284/.376/.580) covering for a subpar power month from Chris Davis (2), a poor start for Adam Jones, and an injury riddled month for JJ Hardy. 

Chris Davis is lost for May, but Manny Machado has returned. The Orioles will need a bounce back month from Jimenez and a reliever other than Tommy Hunter and Zach Britton to perform well if they want to stay in the hunt. Given all of their injuries and their poor starts, the Orioles are quite lucky to be 12-12 and in a race. 

Boston Red Sox: Performance Is Inconsistent

You can forgive the Red Sox for looking as if they are sleepwalking through the early going. It’s natural for a defending champion to have a bit of a hangover, but the Red Sox finished the month with just a 13-14 record. The defending champions rank 4th in on base percentage, but rank just 7th in runs scored. As a staff, they rank 6th in team ERA, but have two rotation members—Clay Buccholz and Felix Doubrant–with ERA’s over 6. Despite their poor ERA, the rotation ranks 6th with a 3.80 FIP. Red Sox relievers rank second according to FIP. 

With no glaring weakness, but no obvious strength, the Red Sox muddled through their first month. Xander Boegarts has started well. David Ortiz is heating up, and Will Middlebrooks is back from the disabled list. The Red Sox offense projects to be more productive. Their mystery is Buchholz, who looks like the years of injuries have taken a toll. 

With better health and players likely matching projections, the Red Sox will compete. The backend of the rotation could be their undoing, but with plenty of room in the budget, they can afford to bring someone in if it truly becomes an issue. 

Toronto Blue Jays: Works Hard, But Has Difficulty

In the end, the Blue Jays are 12-15. They started well, but lost six of their last seven to close the month. Despite just two home runs from Edwin Encarnacion, the Blue Jays rank second in the league in home runs. Jose Bautista is fully healthy and has returned to being the elite power hitter in the division. Melky Cabrera has shaken off whatever plagued him last season and has a .935 OPS. But, the rest of the offense has struggled. Brett Lawrie hasn’t clicked. Second base has been an albatross. Jose Reyes missed substantial time. Overall, the Blue Jays rank 4th in slugging percentage and 5th in runs scored.

Their potential achilles heal has become their reality as the pitching staff, despite a stellar opening month from Mark Buehrle, has been poor. The rotation ERA of 4.41 (3.92 FIP) is one of the worst in the league. The 9 percent walk rate is the worst in the league. Those numbers are exacerbated by the fact that Blue Jays relievers have the second worst walk rate in the league. Even more troubling, Blue Jays relievers have pitched 93 innings, the third most in the league. 

With a thin pitching staff and a flawed offense, the Blue Jays are performing as expected. They’ll get hot when their power hitters get on a roll, but they lack the pitching to be relevant in the American League East race. 

Tampa Bay Rays: Absences May Lead To A Denial Of Credit

Every team has injuries, but the Rays have lost Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Jeremy Hellickson (before the season) to injury. The 11-16 Rays has also received just league average production from David Price and Chris Archer, while Jake Odorizzi struggled all month. Now, Cesar Ramos and Erik Bedard are rotation mates, which wasn’t the plan. The rotation ranks just 11th in the American League with a 4.51 ERA (3.62 FIP). The bullpen ERA of 4.25 ranks just 9th. Both are quite unusual for a Rays’ team that is built around pitching. The offense is producing enough that would, in normal seasons, be enough. Because of a lack of depth, the injured Rays may struggle for the first time under Joe Maddon. 

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About the author


Gary Armida  

Orioles Analyst

Gary Armida is a Father to the best little girl in the world. After that, he is a writer who has been covering Major League Baseball since 2007. During that time, Gary operated FullCountpitch.com, one of the first independent online sites that gained Major League Baseball media credentials. Over the years, he has covered two Winter Meetings and has written feature articles for a variety of outlets while interviewing Major League personnel such as Rick Peterson, Jason Giambi, Zack Wheeler, Jeff Luhnow, Jack Zduriencik, Michael Bourn, and many others. In addition to his work at BSL, Gary contributes to USA Today Sports Weekly and maintains his personal site, garyarmida.com, that serves as his portfolio as well as a place for additional content.


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