Manuel Margot will be fine, San Diego Padres fans.
Earlier this season, there was a lot of talk about sending Manuel Margot down to AAA El Paso to work on his game. He was struggling to do much at the plate, stay healthy, and even play the elite defense fans had quickly become accustomed to. Rather than a trip to the farm, the San Diego Padres had Margot work through his struggles at the major league level. That process continues.
A mid-season swing adjustment brought about instant positive results, however, playing time became an issue. As I sit and write this piece, Margot is currently playing in his 139th game of the season but has amassed just 510 at-bats. That’s 19 fewer at-bats in 13 more games compared to his rookie year, largely due to more playing time for Travis Jankowski.
Overall, his sophomore numbers aren’t impressive. A .244 average with a .291 OBP and .662 OPS. He has just seven home runs, 10 stolen bases, a wRC+ of 78, and a 0.4 fWAR (as of Friday afternoon). Not great, but that’s ok.
There are a few signs that point to Margot developing into a solid major league hitter. First and foremost, he’s 24, calm down. In fact, he just turned 24 on the day this article was written (September 28). He still has a few more years before hitting his baseball prime. This was only his second full season in the majors, with much of the first half of the year being spent recovering from a fastball to the ribcage and numerous outfield tumbles onto his wrists.
Next, plate awareness. Margot’s walk rate (6.3%) is at nearly the exact rate as it was last season. His strikeout rate, on the other hand, has dropped nearly 3%, falling to 17% in 2018. I like this number more than anything else. As a team, the Padres rank second in the majors in strikeouts. Can’t put much blame on Margot.
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How has this improvement come about? Margot’s chase rate of 24% is three percentage points lower than last year and four percentage points lower than the league average. He’s also swinging at the first pitch much less often (more than 4% below league average), instead choosing to wait for his pitch.
Lastly, Margot is pulling the ball much more this year. His pull % has jumped more than 12%, In an effort to rebound from his early struggles, could this be from Margot trying to do too much at the plate? Yes, he’s being patient, but when he sees his pitch, he may be becoming too aggressive. If that’s the case, it’s a mental issue with Margot which can be fixed with another successful winter league campaign and injury-free spring training, hopefully. I don’t want to oversimplify that at all, seeing as getting over a mental hump may be the most difficult adjustment to make, however, the tools are there, the past success is there, and the small improvements have already happened. If Margot can string together a bit of success, the effect may be career-changing
Does Margot need to be sent down to AAA for a bit? No. Should the San Diego Padres look to unload him this offseason? Absolutely not. Will his third year be a charm? It may not seem like it right now, but yes.