With Manny Machado swinging a scorching hot bat — .338/.384/.618 with six home runs in June — there has been increasing chatter that the Baltimore Orioles should move Machado out of the leadoff spot and back into the heart of their order. That, I believe, would be a terrible mistake for the team. Although Adam Jones has been in and out of the lineup this month, Machado still has the most value to the Orioles batting first. Machado is very close to assuming the mantle from Jones as the Orioles’ best all-around player, and sabermetric wisdom is pointing more and more towards having your best all-around player bat early in the lineup to maximize their turns at bat.
Since being given the keys to the top of the Oriole lineup, Machado has batted .297/.353/.526 with 10 home runs. Three of those homers have come leading off the game. How’s that for instant offense? Furthermore, each of those numbers in Machado’s leadoff slash line represent career highs, as does his overall 2015 line of .289/.346/.510. His next home run will also set a career high, as he maxed out with 14 during the 2013 season. He is also showing a willingness to utilize his speed on the bases, with 10 stolen bases on the year so far.
There is certainly a case to be made that Machado should be batting cleanup for the Orioles instead of Chris Davis or Matt Wieters. He has been that good this season. There would not be many arguments against naming him team MVP this season. Machado is beginning to turn the 50-doubles power he showed in 2013 into home run power. That jump in power can be attributed to Machado beginning to fill out his 6’3″ frame, as he looks noticeably more muscular this season. Increased strength is not the only factor at play in Machado’s surging production. He has also fully matured in the batter’s box. Gone are the free-swinging rookie days of 2013. Machado will also blow past his career high in walks this season. After swinging at 33.0% of pitches outside the strike zone last year, and 30.8% during his fine rookie season, Machado has swung at only 24.0% of pitches off the plate this year. He has also cut down the overall percentage of pitches he swings at from 50.0% a year ago to 42.8% this season. Coupled with that patience, Machado has upped the percentage of swings he makes contact on from 78.3% to 83.6%.
These are the same types of factors that have helped to drive one of Machado’s draftmates, Bryce Harper to new heights this season. Just as these trends have played out for Harper with fewer groundballs and popups, so too have they for Machado. Machado has actually seen a slight decline in the percent of his flyballs landing in the seats this season compared to last, but the fact that he is hitting a significantly higher number of flyballs this season, is paying off in the power department.
In seasons and eras past, there is little to no chance that Manny Machado would continue in the leadoff spot for the Orioles. The Orioles, however, have no better option, unless Buck Showalter wants to flip-flop Machado and Jones. That move likely would not pay dividends, however, as Jones does not have the requisite on-base skills to handle batting leadoff. No, if you are the Baltimore Orioles, you must be content to pencil in Manny Machado at the top of the order. Conventional wisdom has changed, and as Machado continues to grow as a hitter, he is taking the role of the perfect leadoff hitter for today’s game of baseball. He is becoming a patient hitter with a lethal combination of speed and power. He may not hit 40 home runs or steal 40 bases like Mike Trout, but Machado is a darn good option to bat leadoff for the Baltimore Orioles.