Manny Machado has been on a tear since the second half of the season started. His overall offensive metrics are much more in line with what is expected from him, having increased his wRC+ from 97 to 142. That’s a 46 percent improvement, which has looked sustainable given that he has logged over 100 plate appearances from mid-July to early August at that higher level of production.
But how has Machado achieved his recover?
Well, for starters, Machado is striking out less. During the first half, Machado was striking out in 19.7 percent of his plate appearances — way above his career 16.9 percent strikeout rate. But after the All-Star break, he’s cut down his strikeouts by nearly 50 percent. Currently, he’s the proud owner of a 9.3 percent second-half strikeout rate — which is the sixth lowest amongst qualified batters, and best amongst batters with at least 100 PAs in that time.
So, given that Machado is striking out less, then we can guess that he is making more contact, and having better results on balls in play. Yes, and yes.
As you can see, Machado wasn’t making much contact within the strike zone in the first half of the season. In fact, his “hot spot,” if you can call it that, was between himself and the inside mark of the strike zone. Those aren’t easy pitches to do damage on, however, so even when he did make contact, his results were muted.
And yet, when the second half of the season started, Machado started making more contact all over: in the strikezone, on the upper-outer part of it, and even above the strike zone. He’s managed to adapt, turning his first-half weakness into an advantage and, consequently, improving his production drastically.
Manny Machado 2017 1st/2nd-half splits
Machado’s numbers are better across the board. The only number that has stayed stable has been his BB percentage, which is good news: it means that, while he’s making more contact when he does swing, Machado has maintained his pitch recognition outside the zone, limiting his swings to pitches he can truly drive. His BABIP is also indicative of how lucky he has gotten, though the change in launch angle (and line drive percentage as we’ll see in a bit) explain the BABIP spike somewhat.
Machado is hitting more balls in the sweet spot between 10 and 20 degrees, leading to an increase in line drives from 13.9 percent in the first half to 20.5 in the second. Likewise, the change in launch angle has also sparked changes in his GB and FB percentage (3 percentage point drop each) and in his IFFB percentage (13 percentage point drop).
Finally, the last culprit which led to Machado’s lackluster first-half was batted ball location. Over the first four months of the season, Machado was pulling the ball 43.3 percent of the time. As you can see, that meant that most of his batted balls were directed right at where the shortstop should be standing. Of course, if you hit’ em where they are, chances are you’re not going to get on base and your numbers are going to drop.
But as of July 14, Machado has pulled the ball less and driven more pitches to all parts of the field evenly. His pull percentage has fallen to 36.8 percent, as the heatmap above demonstrates. By having a better batted-ball distribution — in combination with hitting more line drives — Machado has become the successful hitter he was expected to be going into 2017.
Unfortunately, Machado’s resurgence may prove too little, too late for a Baltimore Orioles club that may miss the playoffs and is on the verge of a potential rebuild. The silver lining to his rebound (beyond the increased joy it gives Orioles fans in these final months of the season) is that it may make a trade easier and more profitable for the Orioles than if he had continued to struggle.
Then again, there’s still some baseball left to play this season and Machado has to prove that these first 100 second-half PAs are sustainable over what remains to be played. But looking at his overall numbers, it appears that he’s finally regained his classic form, and will stay back on track through the rest of the season.
*All stats through August 7th, 2017
Martin Alonso writes for Beyond the Box Score and BP Bronx and is constantly geeking out over baseball and Star Wars. You can find him on Twitter at @martnar.