After a disappointing 2019 season, Manny Machado came through for the Padres in 2020.
When the San Diego Padres signed Manny Machado to a 10-year, $300 million free agent contract prior to the 2019 season, it was a sign that the Padres were a force to be reckoned with. Maybe they weren’t contenders quite yet – it would be another year before that happened – but with a stocked farm system, they took a big step forward towards winning.
It seems like Machado has been in the league forever, but he just turned 28 in July. Prior to signing with San Diego, Machado had been an All-Star four times, finished in the top ten in MVP voting three times, and won two Gold Glove Awards. From 2015 to 2019, he hit at least 30 home runs each year.
However, Machado’s 2019 wasn’t that great, as he posted a .796 OPS, down from .905 when he split 2018 with the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers. In addition, he grounded into a league-high 24 double plays, while his fielding metrics were also down. It wasn’t a disastrous year, but Padres fans were expecting more.
Well, they got a lot more in 2020. Over the pandemic-shortened 60-game season, Machado dramatically improved his OPS to a career-high .950. He batted .304 with 16 home runs and 47 RBIs, earning his first Silver Slugger Award, while defensive metrics were improved as well. It was good for a third place finish in NL MVP voting.
Why the big difference? For some hitters, it helps when they are trying to go the opposite way more, but it looks like that’s not the case with Machado. He actually pulled 45% of the balls he put in play according to FanGraphs, by far the highest mark of his career and up dramatically from the 36.8% mark of 2019. Ground ball and fly ball rates were down, but his line drive rate was up to 22%, also the highest mark of his career.
It appears that Machado also had better pitch selection in 2020. His percentage of swings at pitches outside the strike zone was down from 2019, while the percentage of swings at pitches in the strike zone was up.
After a great 2020 season, Machado is certainly trending in the right direction. While Fernando Tatis Jr. is getting a lot of the headlines this offseason, Machado is still a key force in the Padres’ lineup and one of their most important players. Hopefully, he can build on a solid 2020 and be this good over the course of a full 162-game season.