What Manny Machado's numbers tell us about how he'll perform at Padres' Petco Park
Machado is moving into a ballpark with a reputation for being pitcher friendly
After an offseason of waiting, a big money team finally stepped up to sign Manny Machado on Tuesday. That big money team is ... the San Diego Padres? The San Diego Padres. . It also includes an opt out after year five. .
The Padres lost 96 games a year ago and they haven't posted a winning record since 2010. They're pretty bad and Machado alone won't change that. San Diego does have the game's best farm system though, one with several elite near-MLB-ready prospects and loads of depth. The Padres don't have one or two touted youngsters coming. They have waves of prospects.
Machado is only 26 -- when his new 10-year-old contract expires, he'll be younger than Robinson Cano is today -- and he'll fit right into the team's youth movement. What's better than a great farm system? A great farm system and one of the best players in baseball on your MLB roster. That's what the Padres have now. They just signed Machado for his peak years.
Now that Machado has agreed to go to the Padres, the next question becomes obvious: How will he perform at Petco Park? To get started, know Machado is 8 for 18 (.444) with a double in four career games at Petco Park. Also know that is completely meaningless. Machado played two games in San Diego in 2013 and two more in 2016. A meaningless sample. Ignore the 8 for 18.
Aside from his brief stint with the Dodgers last year, Machado has played his home games at a hitter friendly ballpark in Camden Yards throughout his career. He's a career .295/.353/.534 hitter at home and .271/.319/.442 on the road. Pretty big difference! We're talking 126 OPS points. Here is Machado's 2018 spray chart superimposed over Petco Park's dimensions:
Looks like Machado might've actually had some fly outs and doubles turn into home runs at Petco Park. That's all well and good, but the plot itself doesn't mean anything. Unless Machado winds up producing the exact same spray chart in 2019 as 2018 (nope), that plot isn't telling us anything useful.
To figure out how Machado will fare at Petco Park, it's important to first understand that Petco Park is no longer an extreme pitcher's park. Back in the day, when it first opened, forget it. You needed a relay man to get the ball over the fence. The walls were brought in recently though, plus construction in the area surrounding the ballpark has changed wind patterns. Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune spoke to several Padres about the ballpark two years ago:
"I've kind of been waiting for the Petco effect that I keep hearing about," General Manager A.J. Preller said with a smile.
"Last year, as opposed to when I was there the first time, it seemed to play very fair," said left-hander Clayton Richard, who rejoined the Padres last summer after a nearly three-year hiatus. "It seemed like the balls that were hit hard went out and the balls that should have went out did and the balls that weren't did not."
"I think it carries better than it used to when it initially opened," manager Andy Green said. "Why that is, what the reason behind that is, I don't exactly know. But I do know that it's very fair. … I'd put it right in the middle of the pack right now."
Petco Park is still a pitcher's park, though not as extreme as it once was. Also, Camden Yards is a hitter's park, though perhaps not as extreme as you may think. Here are the right-handed batter park factors from RotoGrinders:
A park factor of 1.0 is league average. Those numbers are telling us Camden Yards inflates home runs an extra 15 percent above the league average whereas Petco Park suppresses home runs to 93 percent of the league average. The park factors indicate that yeah, Machado is probably going to lose some homers in his new ballpark. Two things about that though.
1. Machado is not your average hitter.
He is an elite hitter who hits the ball as hard as anyone in the game. His 48.2 percent hard-hit rate last year was far above the 34.1 percent league average and in the top six percent of MLB. A year earlier Machado was in the top three percent of the league in hard-hit rate.
Furthermore, Machado's 40.8 percent ground ball rate the last two years is below the 43.7 percent league average. He doesn't just hit the ball hard, he hits the ball hard in the air, and that's when good things happen. Here is the leaderboard for fly balls and line drives with an exit velocity north of 95 mph the last two years:
Do you know what the league hits on a fly ball or line drive with an exit velocity north of 95 mph? It hits .622 with a 1.484 slugging percentage. That's the kind of batted ball profile that will play anywhere. Hit the ball hard in the air and very good things happen, and no one in baseball hit the ball hard in the air more often than Machado the last two years.
2. There is more to life than home runs.
Yes, Petco Park does suppress home runs, even after the walls were brought in. Those big gaps make it a great doubles and triples ballpark, however, and doubles and triples help create runs too. Machado is largely a right-handed pull hitter -- he can certainly poke the ball over the right field fence as well -- and he's going to pepper that deep left-center field gap. Some balls will land over the fence. Others will bang of the ball. Either way, they'll help the Padres win.
Inevitably, Machado will lose some homers when those popups that used to carry into the first or second row at Camden Yards on hot Baltimore days are caught at the warning track at Petco Park. The lost homers will come with increased doubles, however, and it's not like Machado's homers are all wall-scrapers. Miss your spot and he'll put a ball into orbit. This power plays anywhere:
Petco Park is no longer an extreme pitcher's park and Machado is not some run of the mill hitter. He makes elite contact and he is only 26 years old. At worst, there is no reason to expect age-related decline anytime soon. At best, there is reason to believe Machado is about to enter the best years of his career given the usual hitter aging curve.
Machado will lose a few home runs in his new home ballpark, particularly on balls hit to the gaps, but he'll also benefit from those spacious gaps and see more doubles. In the old Petco Park, the pitcher's haven that first opened in 2004, there would've been greater reason to worry about a big drop in production. In the current version of Petco Park, a star hitter like Machado can still put up star caliber numbers.
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