Over the first quarter of the season, if one thing has been crystal clear for the San Diego Padres, it is that Manny Machado is one of the most elite defenders in baseball.
The national media has paid much closer attention to the San Diego Padres this season, for several reasons. One of them is, of course, Manny Machado and his 10-year, $300 million contract and the elite skills he brings with him.
Padres fans have seen flashes of his powerful bat, but it has been his defense that so far has set him apart as truly one of the most exceptional players the Padres have ever signed.
He has put on defensive clinics all year long, and the incredible part is, he has done this now at two difficult positions, as he fills in for the injured Fernando Tatis Jr. at shortstop. He has played third base and shortstop this season perhaps better than anyone else in baseball at either position.
This begs the question, is Manny Machado the best defensive player the Padres have ever had?
Certainly, when you think of glove-loving Padres, names like Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith and four-year wonder Khalil Greene come to mind, and let’s not forget the beloved Tony Gwynn has five Gold Gloves in the outfield to his name.
Let’s hash things out a bit more to see where Machado sits in Padres defensive lore, even just one-quarter through his first season in San Diego.
We've watched this play 73 times (and counting) and it's still the most ridiculous thing we've ever seen. pic.twitter.com/BUFtVTfeUI
— Cut4 (@Cut4) April 13, 2019
Machado is currently at 5 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), a 2.7 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and a 3.1 Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF). Defensive metrics are still a crude science but it helps for comparisons and drawing from all three numbers should give us a decent idea.
Via FanGraphs, Machado is still ranked defensively as a third baseman, since that is where he played before Tatis got hurt and it is where he will play when Tatis returns. His 3.1 DEF ranks second only to Alex Bregman among third basemen.
Let’s start with Defensive Runs Saved.
Machado has a career Defensive Runs Saved of 89, which is fourth-best all-time for third baseman and ranked 17th among all position players (DRS was not created until 2003).
The career leader for Defensive Runs Saved in Padres history (again, only since 2003), is Austin Hedges at 45, take catchers out of the equation, and it’s Yonder Alonso at 27. Alonso played first base for the Padres from 2012 to 2015. Take first basemen out as well, the next in line is Tony Gwynn, no, not that Tony Gwynn, but his son, Tony Gwynn Jr., who manned center field for his pops’ old team from 2009 to 2010.
Here is the top 10 in Padres history, not counting catchers (duplicates will appear if they played a second position).
Machado averages over 12 DRS per season at third base. If he continues on this trend, he will be the Padres’ franchise leader in Defensive Runs Saved before his third season is complete in San Diego. Give Machado time, and he will lap his competition on this list, especially at third base. Machado has only played 357 innings for San Diego between shortstop and third base and is at 5 DRS so far. He is on pace for almost 20 DRS, which only five players in all of Major League Baseball achieved last season. Machado posted an absurd 35 DRS in 2013, on his way to not only winning the A.L. Gold Glove for third basemen but the Platinum Glove as well, awarded to the best glove among the Gold Glovers.
In Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), the earliest data dates to 2002. Machado’s 2.7 UZR ranks him again just behind Houston’s Bregman. Machado leads the Padres in 2019 by a large margin, as the closest defender to him is Manuel Margot at 0.4 in centerfield. Machado is on pace for almost 11 UZR this season, which would be his second-best in his career after that stellar 2013 campaign. The incredible thing is, Machado is already in the Padres’ franchise top 10 for career UZR.
Machado will likely take over first place in this category around the same time he does for Defensive Runs Saved, somewhere in Year 3, if he continues this pace. He should usurp Kevin Kouzmanoff as the top third baseman by season’s end.
Looking at FanGraphs’ Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF), Machado scores among the best in baseball, as mentioned before. Once again, this metric was introduced in 2002. Here is a look at the Padres’ top 10 list for DEF, excluding catchers (an abnormally high number of catchers make the list due to their unique calculations).
Fernando Tatis Jr. just missed this list at 0.8.
Once again, Machado is already on the list after just one-quarter of a season with the team. He is on pace for 12 DEF, which would already put him as the fourth-best Padre (again, this data stared in 2002).
So by these metrics, yes, Machado will likely become the best Padres defender ever in a few short years. Which also means we are truly watching an elite defender at the peak of his craft.
But what about the older players, the Ozzie Smiths and the Garry Templetons? It is more difficult to compare their numbers with Machado’s as we do not yet have the luxury of comparing defensive metrics across generations.
One stat that could help us is dWAR (Defensive Wins Above Replacement), which acts the same way as regular WAR. Those calculations have been made for players like Smith.
Ozzie Smith won two Gold Gloves at shortstop for the Friars before moving on to a Hall of Fame career in St. Louis. He won a staggering 13 Gold Gloves over his career. He was worth 9.1 dWAR over those four years including 3.5 dWAR in 1980 and an average of 2.3 dWAR per season.
Garry Templeton was certainly no Wizard, but he posted a respectable 10.3 dWAR over 10 seasons, averaging out to just over 1 dWAR per year.
Here is a look at all the Padres who won Gold Gloves in a Friars uniform and their dWAR.
|Rank||Player||Total dWAR in SD||Average Yrly dWAR|
Machado currently sits at 0.6 dWAR this season, on pace for 2.4, which would top Ozzie Smith’s number here. Machado averages 1.6 dWAR per year, including his time at shortstop last season.
Obviously, Ozzie Smith is the best defender to date to put on a Padres uniform as his 13 Gold Gloves are the most all-time by a shortstop and second all-time to Brooks Robinson among non-pitchers. Machado will never touch those numbers, but that doesn’t mean he can’t become the best.
Imagine if social media were around when Smith was dazzling everyone night after night at the game’s toughest infield position. Machado gets the benefit of instant replay in high-definition, and it’s a spectacular sight.
Machado has two Gold Gloves to his name and room for many more. There is a good chance he wins one this season, especially with his efforts of pulling double duty so well between shortstop and third.
He has some tough competition with Nolan Arenado winning an astounding six Gold Gloves at third base in a row, dating back to his rookie year.
Gold Gloves or not, Machado, statistically, will very likely become the best Padres defender ever in short order. In some ways, he already is since the pace he is on will shatter most of the defensive metric records the Padres have. Padres fans will get to watch him become the best Padres defender in team history in real time over the next few seasons.