By the time you read this, Manny Machado, the most important free agent signee in Padres history, will have already taken the field and taken our breath away.
He’s that good. Trust me.
Though I grew up in San Diego, my lifelong best friend, Steve Albrecht, was born in Baltimore. We met in 2nd grade at Charles A. Lindberg Elementary School, alongside a then largely undeveloped Balboa Avenue. Mrs. Huber was our teacher and a task master (back to that in a moment).
Steve lived down the street from me and we became instant friends. He was smart and funny and, like me, wore glasses. He was a bit shy and that made me feel more daring by comparison — even though by any conventional standard I’ve never been daring in my life. Steve loved Baltimore and especially his grandparents. Our friendship made devoted to Baltimore.
It was 1970 and Baltimore’s baseball team was in the World Series. I was just coming of age about such things – world championships and pro sports — and this was as seductive a call as I had yet heard. My best friend. From Baltimore. Baltimore’s Orioles in the World Series. Wow.
Back then, the games were played during the day. That meant if you were in school you missed everything. Unless you were a bit daring and had a small transistor radio with an ear plug. It also helped immensely to have a desk in the back of the class. As it happened, I had all three. Oh, the unimaginable wonder I found inside the crackling subversive sounds of the World Series flowing from my battery-powered pocket radio up my wind breaker (which I somehow donned without provoking Mrs. Huber’s curiosity) through a cream white wire to a gaudy ear plug crammed into the ear least visible to Mrs. Huber. She never caught on. Or if she did, Mrs. Huber let me slide. Either way, I was never caught. The thrill of the rule-breaking was nearly as great as the Orioles success on the field (they won the Series in five games). I felt empowered and enriched. It was one of the few rules I ever broke. Baseball heard through the secretive device of radio made me feel in some way immortal, or at least ageless. Still does.
Back to Manny. I have carried my affection for the Orioles my entire life. Steve and I start every season analyzing the Padres and Orioles rosters and prospects – somewhat terse conversations lately. The point is this. I’ve watched a lot of Manny Machado. Offensively, he’s all you have read and more. He’s clutch and enthusiastic. He lays off outside pitches and demolishes weak strikes. But that’s not what bends your mind in all the best ways. As a fielder, he’s without compare. Manny makes tough plays look positively effortless. He makes very, very difficult plays look only mildly stressful. With frequency he makes plays that simply look impossible, that leave you speechless, even after the fifth replay. You keep asking yourself…. did that just happen? Meanwhile, Manny is back in position, smiling, awaiting the next pitch. His quickness, agility, arm strength, positioning, anticipation and fearlessness, in my opinion, have no equal. Manny’s glove is in an inflator and deflator. He inspires his teammates and crushes the opposing dugout. I’ve seen it. Over and over.
Manny, quite simply, is a marvel. San Diego, you have only begun to be joyous. You are joyous in the abstract. Wait until you see him. Wait until you see this All-Star in our jersey, in our beloved Petco, flashing leather, flicking his wrist and turning one budding rally after another into dust. Petco is a delight. But its foundations have never been tested. The roar that will come from Manny and Company will test those foundations. My God, it’s about time.
When I started this column, I intended it to be a dissection of sabermetrics and analytics in baseball. I have a hard time with both. At times I feel like baseball, the game I played for 11 years as a child, and many years as an adult, has been kidnapped by mathematicians. The language I grew up with – batting average, RBI, ERA, W-L records – has been pulverized by a dizzying array of numbers and lingo I neither comprehend nor appreciate. I have more than once felt the desire to lash out and damn all sabermetrics and analytics as a revenge-of-the-nerds-Red-Bull-fueled-quant-loving-fundamentals-hating perversion of the national pastime. But as a journalist it is my job to understand that which I do not – to study origins, influence and history.
I have done a fair amount of that. Sabermetrics and analytics began as an effort to unlock baseball, to find its hidden statistical treasures that not only explained the game with more precision, but more equitably measured players across eras, leagues and playing conditions. They are, at their essence, statistical love letters to this great game. They also feel bloodless. To me it feels they so savagely dice the game into ever smaller bits of statistical minutia that the human randomness, geometric wonder and unholy unpredictable physics of the game disappear. Such is the dilemma of obsessive science, mounds of discovery stacked in unapproachably vaulted mountains.
If you want to learn more about sabermetrics, now is the time. Manny makes it fun. With Manny you can get your WAR on and play with OPS and OPS+ to your ever-loving heart’s content.
WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement. It is an amalgam of statistics designed to illustrate the number of wins a single player generates over a generic major league replacement. The higher the WAR, the better the player. A WAR above 3 is very good. Manny’s WAR from 2012 to 2018 was 4.4. Bryce Harper’s was 4.7. Mike Trout’s was 8.5. Okay. Trout is a ridiculous talent. For Padres comparison, Eric Hosmer’s 2018 WAR was 1.4. Hunter Renfroe’s was 2.4. Manny Margot’s was 1.5. Climbing from 2.0 WAR to 3.0 WAR is a big deal. Anything above 5 is MVP territory. Manny has spent his career – and he’s only 26 – in that stratosphere.
OPS is on base plus slugging. It combines two of the most important offensive skills, getting on base and hitting for power. The league average is .700 to .766. An OPS above .900 is staggeringly good – the makings of MVP votes. Here’s Manny’s four-year OPS: 2015 = .861; 2016 = .876; 2017 = .782; 2018 = .905. Yippie!
OPS+ is also known as Adjusted OPS and is a refinement of OPS in the sense that it adjusts for the player’s park and league. It does not account for his fielding position. The league average is 100. Anything above 125 is sick. Manny’s four-year OPS+: 2015 =132; 2016 = 130; 2017 = 108; 2018 = 146. Double Yippie!!
You can sabermetric all over Manny’s career and come to the same statistical conclusion – he’s the goods. He’s the best fit at the most important vacancy. He isn’t everything. Baseball forbids that. No single WAR can win a World Series (ask the Angels). But Manny is an electrifying talent and without question the best free agent to go to WAR with.
Do you have a Padres or Clairemont question for Major? Send us an email to: AskMajor@ClairemontTimes.com
Major Garrett was born and raised in Clairemont, is Chief White House Correspondent for CBS News, host of “The Takeout” podcast and author of the book “Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride: The Thrills, Chills, Screams and Occasional Blackouts of His Extraordinary First Year in Office.”