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Is Manny Machado in the same echelon as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper?

May 11, 2013, 6:45 PM EDT

Manny Machado AP

MASN’s Steve Melewski argues that Manny Machado should be considered in the same conversation as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper when it comes to the best young players in baseball. The Orioles’ 20-year-old third baseman is off to a fantastic start in 2013, carrying a .314/.356/.503 line through 166 plate appearances. By Baseball Reference WAR, he has been as valuable as Joey Votto and Troy Tulowitzki, among others, which ranks in the top-ten in baseball.

Putting him in with Trout and Harper, though? Melewski uses batting average, home runs, RBI, and doubles to make his case, which unfortunately leaves out base running and defense.

Melewski writes:

Did you know that through the first 84 big league games for each player, that Machado tops both Trout and Harper in batting average, homers, RBIs and doubles?

Well, he does, as found by Duquette, who is also heard on MLB Network Radio on Sirius-XM Radio. Here is the comparison:

Machado – .284 average, 12 homers, 47 RBIs, 20 doubles.
Harper – .258 average, nine homers, 29 RBIs, 16 doubles.
Trout – .282 average, 11 homers, 42 RBIs, 16 doubles.

Machado tops the dynamic duo in all four categories. Is there anyone out there that still doesn’t think he belongs in the conversation with Trout and Harper for best young player in baseball? He clearly stacks up with the other two.

Limiting to each player’s first 84 games is both arbitrary and unnecessarily reduces the sample size for two of the three players. Let’s go over all available data over their respective careers. (Warning: nerdiness ahead.)

The best all-encompassing offensive stat, in my humble opinion, is weighted on-base average (wOBA). It weights everything a player does by himself and is context-neutral (in other words, it doesn’t care about the inning, runner on base, outs, etc.). Trout is way ahead of the pack at .399, Harper is in second at .365, and Machado brings up the rear at .341. The MLB average is .315. The 58-point difference in runs between Trout and Machado, over Machado’s 368 career PA, is 17, which is huge — nearly two wins, or the equivalent of an average player by itself. The 24-point difference between Harper and Machado is seven runs over 368 PA.

Trout has also stolen 54 bases in 60 attempts (90 percent), Harper 19 in 27 (70 percent), and Machado six in seven (86 percent). In overall base running (which includes base-stealing), Baseball Prospectus credits Trout with 8.7 runs in 2012 and 0.1 runs in 2013 (8.8 total); Harper 5.4 and -0.9 (4.5); Machado -0.3 and -1.0 (-1.3).

Defense is tricky to gauge since even advanced metrics leave a lot to be desired in this area. There is no question that Machado grades highly in this area no matter which methodology you use — stats, scouts, your own eyes, etc. Baseball Reference credits him at 10 runs above average while Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) puts him at 12. Mike Trout is at +11 in center and +6 in left field over his career per BR, and +12 and +4 via UZR. Harper is +14 in center, +8 in right, and +6 in left via BR, and +10, -2, and 0 respectively, going by UZR. As good as Machado is defensively, he would have to be a whole lot better to make up for the lacking offense in comparison to Trout in particular.

Machado is a very good player with a bright future ahead of him. It is perfectly acceptable to appreciate that without exaggerating his prowess and neglecting two very important facets of the game. And it is still quite possible that Machado ends up having the better career when all is said and done, but right now, he doesn’t quite match up.

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