[Editor's Note: Please welcome Stephen Loftus to Beyond the Box Score! Stephen will be joining us as a weekly analyst!]
It's not exactly a secret that the Orioles defied expectations by a good bit last year. In a season where they were expected to finish with a losing record for the 15th consecutive season, they finished second in the always-difficult AL East with a record of 93-69, won the inaugural AL Wild Card game, and fought tough against the Yankees in the Divisional Series. Factors that allowed them to manage such a turnaround have been well-publicized, including a 29-9 record in 1-run games and 16-2 record in extra innings.
With such exceptional records in those departments, it's easy to predict the Orioles failing to reach the playoffs, or even .500. However, the fans are holding out hope in the form of Matt Wieters and Adam Jones being a year older and a year better. Still, the most popular hope for the Orioles repeating 2012 performance is: "We'll have a full season of Manny Machado."
There is no denying Machado had a good stint with the Orioles in 2012. Called up on August 9, he played every inning of the Orioles' final 51 games, and all of them out of position at third base. Despite this, Machado turned in solid defense (4.5 UZR) at third -- much better than the other options of Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis, or Wilson Betemit -- while handling the bat reasonably well as a 20-year old rookie. In the end, Machado turned in a 1.3 fWAR performance in 202 plate appearances, leaving Baltimore very excited for the future.
However, this still begs the question: would a full Manny Machado season really help the Orioles fight off regression that much? ZiPS projects him with a slash line of .252/.311/.418 and a fWAR of 2.7. While solid and encouraging, it hardly could keep the Orioles above 90 wins. However, this is just one prediction. What type of variability could be possible in, say, a set of 140-game seasons.
To look into this, one assumption had to be made. We assume that Machado's 200 plate appearance audition was a reasonable sample of what he can do at this time. Obviously, growth is possible, but I think that assumption is a fair thing to say. So, from the previous year's performance, 10,000 potential Machado seasons of 560 plate appearances were created. In these seasons, Machado's AVG, OBP, SLG, wOBA, K%, and fWAR were calculated. Note that his fWAR was calculated under the premise that he had a UBR of 0.0 and UZR of 4.5. If you prefer to believe that Machado will be an elite defender (UZR of say, 10), then bump all the fWAR totals up by half a win. So what could a full Machado season look like? Let's start with one that the O's fans would like to see.
Best Case Scenario
.300/.357/.500, wOBA .370, 5.0 fWAR
Not surprisingly, the higher projections have Manny's bat developing fast. Here, Manny's bat explodes. Hits for average, hits for solid power (21 HR), and finishes with the third-highest WAR amongst third basemen, assuming ZiPS holds. Elite defense would bump him up to the 5.5 range, and have Baltimore recalling Cal Ripken back in the early 80's.
Worst Case Scenario
.238/.279/.362, wOBA .281, 1.0 fWAR
Manny's bat falls off from his auspicious debut. The sophomore slump hits in as pitchers watch more tape on him and figure him out. Hits only 12 HR and strikes out 21.4% of the time. Even elite defense barely puts him past his 1.3 fWAR accumulated over 202 plate appearances in 2012.
Most Likely Scenario
.271/.316/.422, .322 wOBA, 2.9 fWAR
This is closer in line to what ZiPS sees, although it is a little more optimistic. Machado's bat takes a slower progression, but he still puts up solid numbers. He powers up to 17 HR, and strikes out near his career level of 17.5%. At his current defensive level, he comes in tied with Mike Olt for 13th among third basemen. This seems about the right level for a 20-year old second-year player. Elite defense would push him into the top 10, tied with Pablo Sandoval, again assuming that ZiPS holds.
As a note, these aren't actually the absolute best and worst case scenarios. They're actually the 2.5 and 97.5 percentiles of the fWARs from the created seasons, so they're the realistic best and worst scenarios. The actual maximum was 7.0 fWAR, and the actual minimum was -1.3 fWAR. The selected slash lines, wOBAs, and such are taken from one representative season of that fWAR value. You can see the fWAR percentiles with representative seasons below.
|Min||-1.3||.188/.239/.272, .229 wOBA, 5 HR|
|10th||1.6||.245/.300/.362, .292 wOBA, 11 HR|
|25th||2.3||.259/.302/.409, .310 wOBA, 17 HR|
|Median||2.9||.271/.316/.422, .322 wOBA, 17 HR|
|75th||3.6||.273/.332/.442, .337 wOBA, 16 HR|
|90th||4.2||.284/.346/.462, .351 wOBA, 19 HR|
|Max||7.0||.325/.377/.596, .415 wOBA, 34 HR|
So Machado could wind up in a variety of places next year. No big surprise there, but the real question is how that will affect the Orioles. Obviously, 1.0 fWAR would virtually kill any chance of a return to the postseason. Frankly, the most likely scenario of 2.9 fWAR might not even be enough to put the O's in the money, at least without major leaps by others. If Machado pulls that 5.0 fWAR, the Orioles could return to October baseball. However, that is a tough ask of any 20-year old, albeit a talented one.