Manny Machado and the man who forced the hand of Dan Duquette

Manny Machado should be an improvement at third base for the Orioles. (Derick E. Hingle/US Presswire)

Manny Machado will be playing in his first game tonight with the Baltimore Orioles. His inexperience, and his .266/.352/.438 line in double-A didn’t exactly force the hand of general manager Dan Duquette. So, what did?

Wilson Betemit. The man Dan Duquette signed to a two-year contract (with a vesting option for 2014 if he reaches 700 PA combined in ’12 and ’13) has cost the team about a game defensively according to WAR, has shown an inability to hit lefties and, also, doesn’t really seem to care. If you watch him play on a daily basis, you know his defensive style is that of a matador. He tries to pimp every play — he plays everything to the side, has horrible foot work and often just swipes at the ball without giving much thought as to the outcome. Offensively, he swings at every pitch as if he only has one guess as to what it’s going to be: a fastball. When the pitcher is naive enough to throw him one over the plate, he does good things to it; otherwise, not so much. Fangraphs shows he is a below-average hitter against every pitch he sees, minus the heater (is slightly above average against the splitter but rarely sees one).

The Orioles have taken a ton of heat in the press, and from me, for playing way over their heads. Besides the bullpen, which has been filthy, the almighty unquantifiable “chemistry” has had something to do with them outplaying their Pythagorean. If there is one player on the team who subtracts from that chemistry, it’s Betemit. The Orioles have a bunch of young pitchers who are striving to achieve the confidence necessary to be successful in the big leagues. Part of that is having the confidence to throw all of your pitches. When you have an egregious, glove-swiping bull fighter at third, it must be tough for the pitcher and Matt Wieters to call off-speed pitches to right-handed batters.

Now that Machado is up, he should play third every night, except for situations where Robert Andino needs to get some reps. Betemit should be strictly limited to DH duties against righties. Scouts think Machado will play shortstop long term in the pros, so even though he hasn’t had a ton of practice at third, he should be at least average, if not slightly above, at the position. He won’t cost them games. He will also help with the morale of the pitchers, as they now have someone down at the five who is looking to prove his worth, willing to dive, willing to get in front of balls.

Offensively, though, he won’t be great. Dan Szymborski’s ZIPS projections initially had Machado posting this at the start of the season: .248/.303/.389. Without being able to reverse engineer his system, I did the following: I took the 2011 double-A seasons of A.J. Pollock, Starling Marte and Will Middlebrooks and compared them to the 2012 ZIPS for each player. ZIPS projected the players to produce about 80-84 percent of what they did in the minors, if they were to play in the pros this season. This, of course, is extremely rough because ZIPS also uses park factors and age to a degree. But if you regress Machado’s 2012 double-A line, he would most likely project to somewhere near .221/.296/.357 in the pros. Granted, he played his double-A games in the Eastern League, which is notorious for suppressing offense, and is moving to a hitter’s park in OPACY.

Overall, I expect Machado’s defensive value and energy boost to make this a worthwhile move. I expect his on-base skills will translate a bit better than my slash line says. He will probably look pretty good initially at the plate, until pitchers find out his weakness to the curve, which scouts say he still has a slight recognition problem with. Though Duquette’s hand was forced by the play of Betemit, I still believe this is a solid move that will make the O’s a little more likely to sneak into the playoffs.

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