Assuming the infield was set after the Josh Donaldson signing, we heard a named tied to the Braves for the first time. Manny Machado. Now I don’t believe this actually happens, and that if the Braves dip into the mega-star free agent market that Bryce Harper is the better bet to come to Atlanta. The Braves have the highly touted Dansby Swanson at SS but could the Braves really think about placing Machado at SS over the incredible defensive Swanson?
Swanson rebounded from an awful 2017 with the glove to record 10 DRS and a 5.9 UZR/150 in 1165 innings in 2018. Swanson’s offense is still very much up in the air due to the fact that we’ve rarely seen him healthy outside of his debut in late 2016. He’s dealt with multiple wrist injuries and had offseason surgery to clean up his troublesome wrist.
Machado was one of the worst shortstops in baseball over the course of the season in 2018.
So can Machado even play shortstop? The answer is yes, as long as your team has a general idea of what they are doing.
Machado told the Orioles that he wanted to play SS in 2018 and they obliged, making him the everyday SS a year before free agency. Machado likely had hopes that the move could launch his payday into orbit as a 26-year-old FA with an above average glove and two seasons with over a 130 wRC+ before slowing down to a 107 wRC+ in 2017.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t what happened.
Machado wasn’t awful at SS in 2016, his only other extended stretch at the position in the majors, with a DRS of 3 and UZR/150 of 1.4 over 380 innings. Not great, but certainly fine when you’re posting an offensive season 30% better than the rest of the league.
Something changed in 2018 and he was among the worst in the league at the position. He recorded a -18 DRS and a -11.8 UZR/150 over 1261 innings with the Orioles before being shipped off at the deadline to the Dodgers.
The Dodgers were looking to upgrade SS for their playoff run after playing most of the season without Corey Seager, who underwent Tommy John surgery in May. Likely just looking to add his bat to the lineup, the Dodgers were gifted with the return of an above average glove from Machado at short too.
The difference? Positioning.
In 2016, Machado’s average depth on his starting position at SS was 149 feet with a -15° angle according to Baseball Savant. The angle works as if second base is 0°, third base is -45°, and first base is 45°. In 2018, Machado’s depth was similar to 2016 at 147ft, but his angle changed from the -15° to -13°, moving two degrees closer to the second base bag.
Some of this now can be attributed to the evolutions of the shift in the MLB, but the Orioles have always been in the top in the total number of shifts since Baseball Savant started tracking in 2016.
Machado with the Dodgers though saw his positioning change to the same 147 ft depth, but he jumped back towards third base with a -16° positioning angle. Whallah, he’s good again.
He had a 2.7 UZR/150 and 5 DRS over his 424 innings with the Dodgers at SS, comparable to what he did in 2016 with the Orioles in his extended time at short.
Six feet to his right is what transformed him from the worst SS in baseball to a fine one. It feels ridiculous until you realize exactly how slow he is. Machado ranks in the 36th percentile in sprint speed with an average speed of 26.3 ft/s. That’s tied for 216th among all players in baseball. The only “full-time” SS in baseball that he’s faster than is Brandon Crawford.
Crawford has always rated as a plus defender (even if it’s trending downwards), and he also is one who positions himself closer to the third base bag with a -16° angle in 2018.
Machado can play SS at the big league level and play it well, even if it doesn’t match up to his otherworldly glove at 3B. It’s just going to take a team that is smart enough to understand where he needs to be positioned to maximize his abilities.
Machado could handle shortstop for the Braves, especially with gloves like Josh Donaldson, Ozzie Albies, and Johan Camargo as the players positioned around him most often.
Despite my love for Swanson and his glove, the idea of a lineup consisting of Acuña/Donaldson/Freeman/Machado and another bat that Swanson could be in a package for sounds mighty nice.