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How Good is Manny Machado?

Last season bought about one of the most talented rookie classes baseball has seen in some time. While the class was strong, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout were the two players who stood out as the future of the game. In 2013, another name joined their ranks. Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado churned out a fantastic sophomore season, which could earn him some low-end MVP votes. It’s fairly rare for players as young as Machado to be in the majors, let alone perform at a near-MVP level. Harper and Trout may have received all the headlines last season, but Machado has forced his way into that conversation after a strong 2013.

Any discussion about Machado’s value has to center around his exceptional defense. Machado finished the season with a 33.2 UZR, the 39th highest total ever recorded. Among third baseman, Machado’s 2013 ranks as the eighth best defensive season. His defense is a major reason he ranks 11th in the majors with a 6.2 WAR. Of course, any conversation about defense always comes with a small grain of salt, as it’s tough to trust the metrics after just one season of data. In Machado’s case, there’s no doubt he’s a fantastic defender. But the likelihood that he continues to save 30+ runs per season is asking a lot. Even with some decline, it’s not hard to see him as a top defensive option at third in the future. There’s certainly plenty of value in that.

An easier area to measure is Machado’s hitting. While he’s shown signs of promise at the plate, there’s still some room for improvement as a hitter. When sorting for similar players, Machado has some promising offensive comps.

Claudell Washington 872 5.20% 14.20% 0.302 0.340 0.411 0.338 4.4
Phil Cavarretta 852 5.80% 8.30% 0.278 0.325 0.398 0.332 1.4
Chubby Dean 733 9.00% 4.60% 0.275 0.344 0.364 0.332 -0.8
Adrian Beltre 828 9.10% 17.10% 0.259 0.333 0.412 0.325 3.6
Manny Machado 912 4.20% 16.60% 0.279 0.309 0.435 0.323 7.5
Cesar Cedeno 1026 3.90% 15.50% 0.281 0.310 0.417 0.323 2.5
Edgar Renteria 1162 6.70% 15.10% 0.290 0.340 0.365 0.317 4.6
Johnny Bench 700 5.10% 16.40% 0.260 0.297 0.409 0.316 4.1

The above chart shows players who posted a similar wOBA at the same age as Machado. Claudell Washington and Chubby Dean are the least successful players on the list. Dean shifted to pitching following his age-20 season, while Washington had a long career as a useful offensive player. The middle tier consists of Phil Cavarretta, Cesar Cedeno and Edgar Renteria. Both Cavarretta and Cedeno hit at a consistently high level over their careers, while Renteria recently concluded a very underrated career. Adrian Beltre and Johnny Bench top the list. Both became phenomenal hitters during their careers. Bench is already in the Hall of Fame, while Beltre is sure to be the focus of many debates once his career is over. Beltre is a particularly fun comp, as both he and Machado play third extremely well. Oddly, at that time in his career, Beltre walked at a decent clip. He’s since become a slightly more aggressive hitter.

While some of these players developed into tremendous offensive threats, not all of them took major steps forward at age-21. Cedeno, Bench and Beltre emerged as strong offensive threats, while Dean and Renteria held steady. Washington and Cavarretta saw pretty big drops in their offensive numbers. At the same time, it’s tough to just focus on one year as an indicator for Machado. Beltre experienced some tough offensive seasons following his early success, while Washington and Cavarretta seemed to hit their offensive stride around age-24. So, while Machado may have a wide range of outcomes for next season, it’s promising that he’s surrounded by players who eventually showed offensive improvement.

Though Machado’s season ended due to a knee injury, he’s expected to be fully healthy for the start of next season. While his main strength is defense at this time, there’s evidence he’ll eventually become a stronger hitter. After a strong sophomore campaign, Machado has joined Harper and Trout to form the best young trio in the game.