When the Dodgers traded for Manny Machado there was some concern because his advanced defensive metrics were pretty bad. He was rated as one of the worst shortstops in baseball so there was some concern if it was going to be worth having a possible downgrade defensively at the shortstop position. Machado’s offensive numbers were what the balance would be, even with some non-favorable home/road splits. Now that Machado has been on the Dodgers for over a month I wanted to know if he had improved defensively with the Dodgers. The eye test has said he’s looked very good.
Advanced Defensive Metrics
As with many of the advanced metrics there are a ton of which to learn. I keep it simple by finding a few key metrics and stick to those until I find better ones. The ultimate source for defensive metrics is FanGraphs and I am getting my information from them. The metrics I will be using are:
- Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) – from FanGraphs
“…players are measured in “runs” above or below average, and Baseball Info Solutions data is used as an input.”
- Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) – from FanGraphs
“UZR puts a run value to defense, attempting to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up through their fielding prowess (or lack thereof).”
- Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF) – from FanGraphs
“Defense (Def) is the combination of two important factors of defensive performance: value relative to positional average (fielding runs) and positional value relative to other positions (positional adjustment).”
With The Orioles
Manny Machado, in his first five seasons, mostly played third base and was one of the best in baseball. He was given the opportunity to play shortstop for the Orioles as J.J. Hardy was no longer with the team. It was assumed that a simple move of about 40 feet to his left would not be a big deal and that Machado would continue to excel defensively. In 2018 Machado played 837 innings at shortstop for the Orioles. His defensive numbers at the time included a league-worst DRS of -19, a league-worst UZR of -7.1 and a bottom of the barrel DEF of -2.8. Some would say it was a small sample size as Eno Harris of the Athletic points out:
“What’s with Manny Machado’s defensive metrics at shortstop? He went from one of the best third basemen to one of the worst shortstops ever, so how much of it is “real”? In reality, his defensive metrics come down to 56 plays because so many of his plays had the shift where those plays are thrown out of the calculation. Is he great? Who knows. But he isn’t that bad, and the sample will likely improve with time.” – credit to Beyond the Boxscore.
With The Dodgers
Before the Dodgers made the trade for Manny I ran a simple poll about acquiring him:
I have to ask, is Manny Machado, a rental, who has poor home/road splits and has terrible advanced stats at SS, worth top prospects like Diaz, Ruiz or Verdugo?
— Tim Rogers (SD Dodger) (@SDDodger) July 17, 2018
There was some optimism from Dave Roberts that there was room for improvement for Machado:
#Dodgers notes: Inexplicably, Manny Machado came to LAD ranked as the worst defensive SS in the majors this season. Highlight-reel plays this weekend make it clear that label doesn't belong.https://t.co/mtzGPjDx1F
— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) July 22, 2018
“I think when you’re playing on a first-place team, the focus – not to say that he wasn’t focused (with Baltimore) – but I just understand that the energy, however you want to classify it, is heightened,” Roberts said.
“Roberts also thinks the Dodgers’ sophisticated approach to using analytics in defensive positioning will go a long way to making Machado a more effective defender at shortstop.” – Bill Plunkett
As of August 20, 2018 FanGraphs does have some defensive metrics for Machado as he’d logged in 125.1 innings at shortstop for the Dodgers. Even though it is a small sample size there is some improvement as his DRS is 1, UZR is .4 and DEF is 1.1. There is still a lot of season left and he has played some third base also with a DRS of 3, a UZR of 1.4 and a DEF of 1.7.
It is clear, that even with a small sample size Manny Machado has been much better at shortstop with the Dodgers than he was with the Orioles. Whether it is increased intensity or better positioning from the Dodgers he is playing a decent enough shortstop according to the advanced defensive metrics. The other test, the good old eye test, shows that Machado is making some nice stops at both short and third but the arm is a difference maker. He gets rid of the ball quickly with strong velocity. Although I was skeptical about acquiring Manny Machado, especially because of the defensive metrics, I’m more than pleased with the trade as he passes both the advanced metric test and the eye test.
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