BY DANNY MAJEROWICZ, @DMajic101
Baseball is a game of immense skill, and to perform at the level Manny Machado spoiled us with last year requires more athletic talent than either you or I could dream of having. But with any game, especially one where you play 162 times in six months against competition equal to you, luck is a factor.
For Machado it would seem luck has not been on his side to start off his 2017 campaign. It is easy to look at his .223 BABIP, couple that with his 10th-best average exit velocity in Major League Baseball and it is easy to say "he will be fine, there's nothing to worry about." And you wouldn't be wrong in saying that. His walk rate is the highest it has ever been at 11.6 percent, and his .235 isolated power through 35 games is a career high. But can we chalk up his .228 batting average ALL to bad luck?
No. And in fact, doing so is naive.
There are quite a few reasons to be worried about Machado right now. In the strictest of terms a hitter's job it to get on base. Machado's OBP is .318 — right below the league average mark of .320. In 2016, he was way above league average at .343. The easy excuse is his wildly low BABIP, but consider this: Manny Machado hit line drives 20 percent of the time last year while his ground-ball rate was 42.7 percent. Compare that to this year's mark of 13.6-percent line drives and 41.7-percent groundballs. That is not great for the ol' BABIP.
He isn't using the whole field either, or at least not as much as last year. Machado pulled the ball 42 percent of the time last year while going to the opposite field 23.6 percent. This year his pull rate is up to 45.6 percent and his oppo rate is down to 20.4, and teams are catching on. Machado has faced a shift 20 times this year. He saw 46 all of last year.
All the while pitchers haven't pitched him that much differently, if at all. Here are the pitches Machado saw last year.
And here is what he has seen so far this year.
Whether he has meant to or not, his approach at the plate has changed. While the higher walk totals are nice thanks to swinging at seven-percent less pitches out of the strike zone this year, his lack of using the whole field despite being pitched on the outer third of the plate is alarming.
There is no universe in where Manny Machado hits his body weight in average. His BABIP will rise to the mean and with it so will his batting average. But to say that will fix all of his problems and he will once more return to MVP-like form is wishful thinking. When you see him start to shoot line drives into the right center field gap that's when you'll know he is locked in. Sure, BABIP and exit velocity tell a story of a good hitter with bad luck. But if he doesn't cut his ground balls to the left side down then luck won't mean a damn thing.