There’s nothing in baseball quite as satisfying as watching a generational talent when they are in their prime. Think back to the height of Barry Bonds’ domination of Major League Baseball. It wasn’t just that he was clearly the best player on the planet. What made Bonds so special was that everyone knew he was the best and they still couldn’t do a single thing to stop him. Being a generational talent inherently means that you are the best of the best and you will be remembered by history as the sort of ballplayer who doesn’t come around all that often.
We’ve been lucky in the 2010s, we’ve gotten to witness three generational talents (if he can recover from his latest pitching setback I would say that Shohei Ohtani makes four). All three have had moments where they have struggled, but what makes them generational is that they find ways to beat their slump or fix the flaw the league has found and end up even better than before. We’ve seen Mike Trout and Bryce Harper do this, and now that Manny Machado has done the same there’s no denying his place among the generational elite in baseball.
After last season it was easy to write Macahdo off. In his first season with the San Diego Padres, he struggled to the tune of a .256/.334/.462 slash line and a 106 DRC+. That’s barely above average and when combined with an unexpectedly poor season in the field, his -15.6 FRAA was by far the worst of his career, it makes sense that people looked at his huge contract, his borderline awful production, and said, “Man, maybe we were wrong about Macahdo?” That line of thinking may have made sense, but that doesn’t mean it had a lot of merits. Machado had earned the benefit of the doubt. Heck, in such a down 2019 he still managed a BWARP of 1.5. In his worst full season as a professional, he still managed that much value, if for no other reason that past history plus that number Machado deserved more time to show that he hadn’t truly fallen off.
2020 started off much the same for the Padres’ third baseman. Luckily for Machado the Padres started hot while the play of Fernando Tatís Jr. and Jake Cronenworth helped overshadow Machado’s struggles. All through his struggles, Machado was hitting the ball hard. It was a regular occurrence for the Baseball Savant box score of a Padres game to have Macahdo’s outs as the hardest-hit balls of the game. When you’re making nothing but hard contact it’s only a matter of time until things turn your way. This past week things finally started to turn Machado’s way.
Last week saw the Floridian slash .393/.469/.821 with 3 home runs. A great week like that can fool a metric like WRC+ or OPS+. The metric it can’t fool is DRC+, because that metric isn’t based just on results or weighted average but what the hitter should be producing regardless of the outcome of the batted ball. Machado’s DRC+ in 2020 sits at a lofty 135, a mere one point behind Tatis and his Most Valuable Player talk. Even before his hot week Machado was crushing the ball and should have been getting better results. The former first-round pick has also improved his BB% to a career-high 13.2 and dropped his K% back from 19.7 to a more career reminiscent number of 17.6. He’s slugging the ball better than he has since he left the minor leagues behind. This is likely due to career-highs in Launch Angle, 16.8, and Barrel%, 12.8.
For a while, Manny Machado had lost his groove and was struggling. Like any generational talent, he found his way out of his struggles and is once again putting up the numbers that scream “I’m one of the best players in baseball.” Generational talents need to be appreciated in their time, it’s about time people realize what we have on our hands in Manny Machado. Some day his career will be over and you don’t want to be the person who realizes they missed a generational talent in our time.