It’s been a strange start to the 2015 season for Orioles third baseman Manny Machado.
Offensively, he’s on pace to hit a career-high 31 home runs and currently boasts an .868 on-base plus slugging percentage, which dwarfs his previous best of .755 last year. His .354 on-base percentage and club-leading 13 walks — his career high was just 29 in 2013 — have prompted manager Buck Showalter to move the 22-year-old into the leadoff spot in the order. He’s also stolen five bases, one shy of his career high and a sign that his knee issues are hopefully behind him for good.
But the young infielder’s trademark defense hasn’t been so “Machadian” thus far with a club-leading eight errors in 31 games. His seventh-inning throw behind Chris Tillman on what would have been a 3-5-1 double play eventually led to Toronto breaking a 2-2 tie and scoring four times in the Orioles’ 10-2 loss to the Blue Jays on Tuesday night.
It was his latest miscue to hurt the Orioles this season after he made two late-inning errors in a home series against Boston in late April, one that preceded a tie-breaking three-run homer in a loss and another that resulted in a blown save for closer Zach Britton.
To be clear, Machado has made his share of highlight plays this year, but several of his errors have been costly for a pitching staff so reliant on the Orioles’ usually-stellar defense. Opponents have scored 11 runs in the remainder of innings following a Machado error. Of course, a defensive lapse isn’t an excuse for a pitcher to melt down, but it does illustrate how costly it can be to award extra outs to the opposition.
Of his eight errors, six have been on throws, most of them being rather routine plays.
He’s committed six in the seventh inning or later.
At this point, is he too confident or not confident enough with his throwing? How did the 2013 Gold Glove winner explain the uncharacteristic struggles after Tuesday’s loss?
“I don’t know. Playing baseball,” said Machado, who’s shown his frustration on several occasions this season. “I’m trying to make outs and it’s not turning out like it’s supposed to be. I’ve got to keep grinding, keep catching grounders, and keep making those throws.”
It’s clear that Machado and the Orioles recognize the inconsistency as he was out on the field early on Tuesday afternoon working with third base coach and infield instructor Bobby Dickerson.
No one who’s watched Machado over the last few years doubts his special ability after he won the American League’s Platinum Glove award as its best defensive player in 2013, but he’s currently on pace to commit 42 errors this season. His eight errors are just one shy of his total from last year in 51 fewer games. He made just 13 in 484 chances in his first full season in the majors when he was 20 years old.
Is it an early-season aberration or something bigger to be concerned about?
Much like their slow start to the 2015 season, the Orioles hope the young third baseman snaps out of it sooner rather than later.