There's a reason we play six months in this sport.Well, there are a lot of reasons. But one big one is that from day to day, week to week, everything can change. It takes a full season to get a complete read on a team or a player. These days,
There's a reason we play six months in this sport.
Well, there are a lot of reasons. But one big one is that from day to day, week to week, everything can change. It takes a full season to get a complete read on a team or a player. These days, Manny Machado is probably awfully thankful for that full season.
As recently as the end of June, Machado's numbers were unsightly -- a .216 average, a .289 on-base percentage, a .423 slugging percentage. His power was more or less there, with 15 homers and 15 doubles, and his strike-zone numbers were more or less in line with his norms. But Machado was not performing like the player who finished in the top 5 in American League Most Valuable Player Award voting the past two seasons.
In less than eight weeks, Machado has turned his season around. He's still not at his previous levels, but his current season line of .263/.316/.487 looks like a pothole relative to the past two years, rather than a valley. And, of course, Machado still has another six weeks to keep climbing. Statcast™ suggests he will do just that.
If you're looking for a turning-point game, July 7 in Minnesota looks like a good place to start. Machado woke up with a .701 OPS and went to bed with it at .733. From that Friday through this past Sunday, he posted a .364/.392/.636 line. That's the guy we all know and love.
So what's Machado doing better? Mostly, he's controlling the strike zone. And as a result, he's hitting fewer of the kinds of balls that turn into outs.
Machado is more aggressive in the zone and more patient out of the zone. He's making much more contact when he swings. About the only thing that hasn't improved, curiously, is his average exit velocity.
What's really clear is that Machado is seeing the ball. He is swinging at strikes and laying off balls, and when a hitter with his talent does that, he's going to succeed.
Through July 6, Machado was swinging at 31.6 percent of pitches outside the zone. Since then, it's 28.2 percent. He was swinging at 69.1 percent of pitches in the zone through early July; during his hot streak, it's up to 72.6 percent.
Unsurprisingly, that's been met with a drastic increase in contact. Through July 6, Machado swung and missed at just under 26 percent of all pitches. Since then, it's 13.6 percent.
That's a radical improvement. And it's a big part of how he's hitting .364 over the past 6 1/2 weeks.
Machado is actually doing a bit less damage on contact, by some measures, than he was before. His exit velocity is down a bit from 91.7 mph earlier to 91.3 since early July. Machado is barreling the ball slightly less often (10.67 percent of the time versus 13.25 percent).
But what comes along with laying off bad pitches is making bad contact less often. And that's one thing Machado has done. Through July 6, he hit popups or ground balls on 56.2 percent of his balls in play. Since then, that number is down to 48 percent.
Machado has replaced those with line drives and fly balls. So even though he's hitting liners and fly balls with less velocity than before, it's worth it to hit a lot more of them.
Matthew Leach is an executive editor for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter and read his columns.