At the Major League level, almost all regular position players are at the top of their profession. They are the cream of the crop and have outperformed 99.9% of their peers to even make it to the majors. The very best all stars, at that point, can be considered the best of the best. And really, it’s easy to see why if you get to watch some of these players day in and day out. But who really is at the top of the leaderboard? Who rises to the top among all the stars, and who shines brightest?
If you ever get a chance to make it out to Baltimore, head down to Oriole Park at Camden Yards to watch Manny Machado play third base. Sure, you can catch him on television or check out his YouTube highlight reel plays, but there is something simply magical about being there to observe in person.
Manny has become a terrific power hitter who can also hit for average, while fielding a tough position and making terrific defensive plays. Perhaps the only weakness in his game is his baserunning, where he is simply average. Still, let’s take a closer look at one of the more underrated parts of his game, which is his arm strength.
What Machado does on a daily basis is nothing short of extraordinary, and we are really getting to witness a great talent play the game of baseball. The Orioles faithful are used to seeing such exquisite showmen, as he shares the same side of the infield with O’s greats Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken, Jr. Still, this is a new breed of Oriole, one that dazzles with his strong arm and makes impossible plays look rather routine.
So just how does Machado pull it off? What makes him so special–is it something that he practiced or is this just pure, natural skill? To answer that we can look back to his high school career: the Major League Scouting Bureau actually rated his arm back in 2010 a present grade of 5 and a future grade of 7, all on a scale of 2-8. It’s fair to say that he has definitely hit his grade of 7, and possibly more. 7 can be considered all-star level, and 8 would be a never before seen level.
Machado profiled in high school as an exceptional talent with a very strong arm and excellent body control. He was actually a pitcher in high school and grew up on the mound instead of fielding a position. He pitched with a ¾ arm slot release point and topped out at 90 miles per hour on his fastball with good movement. Coming out of high school, he naturally was expected to move to third base or shortstop because of his strong arm.
This powerful skill has obviously translated well as he moved to his natural position of third base, as he can make fantastic plays from deep in the hole with little effort. Although he can play shortstop just fine, the O’s have J.J. Hardy there who is also a fantastic fielder in his own right. Besides, Machado’s fielding is more needed at third base.
Let’s take a quick look at some of Manny’s most ridiculous throws. There are so many to choose from given Machado’s vast highlight reel package, but here are 5 of the best:
- Miguel Cabrera (Venezuela – World Baseball Classic): March 16th, 2017
Here he makes an insane throw while his momentum is still carrying him away from first base. The throw is slightly offline but makes it to first base in time to nab Miggy thanks to a nice scoop from first baseman Carlos Santana. All in all, an incredible display of pure arm strength and athleticism.
- Devon Travis (Toronto Blue Jays): April 2, 2017
Here Manny makes a terrific pick on Devon Travis’ hard-hit ball and, from his knees, fires a one-hop throw to Davis to get Travis at first. A ridiculous throw considering he was on his knees, and afterwards the throw threw him backwards onto his back looking skywards. Can’t think of too many other major league third basemen who can not only get to that ball and pick it cleanly, not to mention make that throw.
- Luis Cruz (New York Yankees): July 7, 2013
Machado goes into foul territory to grab the ball but slightly double clutches it and bobbles it. This takes him even further into foul territory before he throws, across his body, all in one motion a perfect strike to first base with no hop. A throw like this while he is falling away is extremely difficult to make, but once again Manny makes it look so easy. One of the best throws you’ll ever see by a third baseman, ever.
- Albert Pujols (Los Angeles Angels): July 31, 2014
Likely one of the farthest throws that a third baseman has had to make. Pujols hits the ball squarely and it takes Manny beyond the infield turf and into the shallow outfield.
He picks it cleanly and, instead of firing while moving away from his target, he stops and pivots while making a strong, patient throw to get Pujols out. A very far throw made with ample time to spare.
- Alfonso Soriano (New York Yankees): September 11, 2013
Here Soriano hits an infield dribbler that by all accounts should be a base hit. Machado charges the ball and throws a rocket to Davis to get Soriano by inches. The craziest thing about this throw is that he was horizontal to the ground when he threw the ball.
To be able to make a throw with that much power and accuracy, all while being suspended in mid-air and running full speed, is truly remarkable.
So how has his arm strength helped his team, and how does it rate versus other major league players? Well, you need only look at the Orioles starting rotation to see that it doesn’t stack up very well compared to other teams in the AL East. That has always been a bit of a weakness for Baltimore, yet they still manage to hang in there every year and compete to the end. Part of the reason for this is the left side of the infield (Machado and Hardy), and their ability to gobble up anything that is hit to that side of the field. That helps their starting pitching out immensely, and it’s hard to count how many double plays have started from Machado picking off a hot shot to third and firing a strong throw to second.
Beyond just what can be seen by the naked eye, the statistics support Machado’s prowess as a terrific third baseman as well. A great measure of a player’s contribution to his team defensively is dWAR, or defensive Wins above replacement. His 4.3 dWAR in 2013 was the highest mark of his career, but his 1.9 in 2015 and 2.2 in 2016 were by no means pedestrian either (2014 was cut short with injuries as Manny only appeared in 82 games). He won the Gold Glove in both 2013 and 2015, and also won the Platinum Glove in 2013 for best fielder at any position.
The early scouting report coming out of high school also mentioned one other very important thing: Machado had a strong desire to get better, and this has been very clear in each of his years in the major leagues. This demonstrated ability to continue to get better will only serve to strengthen Machado’s case as one of the best defensive players at his position in all of baseball, as well as the one with the strongest arm.Next post: Can Mike Trout Still Win the MVP?
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