Manny Machado isn’t fast. You might expect him to be fast, and he actually used to be faster. In 2015, when he stole 20 bases, his sprint speed according to MLB’s Baseball Savant was 27.4 feet per second, which isn’t elite — guys like Byron Buxton, Billy Hamilton, and Trea Turner all clock speeds over 30 fps — but it’s respectable. From 2016-18, though, Machado’s sprint speed has been in the 26.4 fps range, which makes him the third-slowest shortstop in baseball this year, ahead of only Corey Seager (who was dealing with a hip issue) and Brandon Crawford.
Sprint speed is calculated from plays in which a player is assumed to be running his hardest. Trying to beat a throw to first on a grounder, for example, or going from first to third on a single to right field. Watching Machado play, though, you sometimes wonder whether there is any safe assumption that Machado is actually giving it his all.
Last night was the latest — and most extreme — example:
As Los Angeles Dodgers announcers Joe Davis and Orel Hershiser pointed out, Machado wasn’t hustling on this play. Hershiser referred to it as a “great piece of hitting, terrible piece of base running.” Machado watched the ball from the batter’s box, then watched it some more as he walked towards first, and once it hit the wall and bounced back, he began running hard enough to make it to second base.
Machado has also drawn some ire from fans for his lack of hustle on grounders in the infield. Those plays are harder to find videos for, because routine grounders don’t make the highlight reels. To be clear, most of the time, Machado was probably going to be out at first no matter how hard he ran. But it’s natural for fans to want to see hustle from their players, and it’s undeniably true that extreme hustle puts pressure on the defense and occasionally leads to rushed throws and assorted miscues.
The Dodgers are in a tricky position with Machado. Undoubtedly, part of the calculation in the front office’s decision to acquire Machado in July was to possibly get a leg up on his free agency this coming offseason. There will be no shortage of teams willing to throw a lot of money at Machado, but the thought goes that if he comes to L.A. and has success personally and as a team, he might use that as a sort of tie-breaker in making his decision. Unfortunately, that puts the Dodgers in the position of “recruiting” the guy who is currently playing for them, which makes it harder to have a conversation taking him to task for not hustling. You can’t really bench a guy for not hustling when you’re trying to talk him into playing for you next year.
So it’s unlikely that Machado is going to suddenly start hustling. The question, then, becomes whether that lack of hustle is a problem.
In a perfect world, every player would hustle on every play. But not everyone is Chase Utley, and we don’t live in a perfect world. In fact, most guys who hustle like Utley don’t last as long as he has, and even Utley himself has only reached 600 plate appearances in a season six times in his 16-year career, mostly due to assorted injuries. Going all-out all the time has a physical cost, and most players make the defensible choice not to pay that price. There’s probably a middle ground, though, between Utley-like hustle and Machado’s less urgent approach.
Here’s the thing, though: If you’re a Dodger fan and you have the choice between Machado and Utley, you’re taking Machado. Hustle is just one small part of the game. On the play in the video above, it’s easy to forget a couple things:
- Machado hit the ball off the wall and drove in a very important insurance run. A shortstop with the kind of power Machado has is very rare.
- Machado ended up on second base, which is where he would have ended up no matter how hard he had run. With no outs, the base runners had to wait to see if Chris Owings was going to catch the ball, so while Justin Turner scored easily from second base, Utley had to stop at third.
In 60 games since joining the Dodgers, Machado is hitting .267/.336/.490 with 13 doubles, 13 homers, and a triple. He is also playing outstanding defense at shortstop. His offensive numbers are down from his ridiculous first half in Baltimore, but his defensive numbers have improved enough to more than make up for that. Machado’s presence in the middle of the lineup and the middle of the field has solidified both areas for the Dodgers.
Machado didn’t cost the Dodgers anything last night. In fact, he drove in their fourth and sixth runs in a game they won, 7-4. And while it’s easy to imagine a scenario in which his lack of hustle could cost the Dodgers an important run or even a game, it hasn’t happened yet.
Do I wish Machado would hustle more often, especially on groundballs in the infield? Of course. But as Gloria Loring sang, “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life.”
Of course, the next lines said, “There’s a time you’ve to go and show you’re growing, now you know about the facts of life.” There are very few weaknesses in Machado’s game; if he can address this one, he could be one of the most complete players in baseball.