Per at-bat, Manny Machado is better this year than he was last year. That’ll happen with a 24-year-old. Or at least that’s what people tell me, I don’t remember those halcyon days myself. What’s most interesting, of course, is how he’s done it. You can tell that he’s hitting for a bit more power by hitting more fly balls, and that he’s improved against breaking balls. That much is on the player pages. But was it the result of a mechanical adjustment, or an approach adjustment? Ask the player, and the answer is yes. And no!
“I haven’t really changed anything,” the Orioles infielder said recently of his swing. “You get a little smarter with the pitches they’re going to throw to you, what they are trying to do to you. Try to look more for a pitch you can drive.” When pushed on that particular subject, he admitted what most hitters would probably admit if they were being honest. “I’m sitting dead red. Looking for a fastball down the middle, more or less.”
“What’s my power, what’s my cookie?” he added with a smile. As for his answer, it does appear as though the fastball up has rewarded him with the best results. He’s been more aggressive on the fastball out over the plate and that’s resulted in more fly balls and power. Here’s his swing rate on fastballs last year (left) and this year (right).
Sitting on that high fastball has made the low pitches look less attractive — the same thing Adrian Beltre found when he started looking for the high fastball — and that has, in turn, dampened Machado’s ground-ball rate on fastballs.