Written by: Justin Choi
Follow him on Twitter: @justinochoi
Follow Prospects Worldwide on Twitter: @ProspectsWorldW
Nobody cared who I was until I started hitting clutch home runs.– Dixon Machado, probably
Just one year ago, Dixon Machado was a journeyman infielder on a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs. No major league stint resulted from it, and so on November 4, 2019, Machado elected free agency.
After years of cycling through teams, it seemed like as though his major league career – or baseball career – had ended.
Then he signed with the Lotte Giants.
Machado started off with a bang, homering in his first game and driving in 4 runs. He then went deep in his fourth and fifth game, erasing all concerns about his offensive production. Machado had just 2 home runs in his 4-year major league journey; in the KBO, he had 3 in mere days. On Fangraphs, his name was searched as frequently as Mike Trout’s.
In short, he was unstoppable.
Fast forward to May 21st, 2020, and Machado’s triple slash-line is .239/.333/.543 with 4 HRs. To be blunt, it’s disappointing. His ISO of .304 usually indicates power, but in this case, its inflated by the home runs he’s hit in a small sample size of 55 PAs. If he ploughs through the season with his current offensive pace, that stellar ISO will drop.
At this point, we’re asking ourselves – why? Why has Machado’s offensive production taken a nosedive? The easy way out is answering with what is now a sabermetric cliche: regression. But cliches are based on truth, and it’s true that nobody can sustain an OPS of 1.339, which belonged to Machado on May 10th. Regression was inevitable.
But when the regression is too sudden and too dramatic, it’s time to analyze other factors. After all, other foreign sluggers like Jose Fernandez Jr. and Preston Tucker are still accumulating video game numbers.
In search of an answer, I looked at all four of Machado’s home runs. Beside the outcome, they all had one thing in common: the pitch thrown.
A fastball. Dixon Machado is a fastball hitter. He’s slugging 1.063 against them and .667 against sinkers, a variant of the fastball. Against other pitches, however, Machado looks more like his old self:
He’s slugged nil against three different pitches, meaning he’s never even had a hit! What’s also troubling is that other teams’ pitchers have caught onto Machado’s weakness:
|First 4 games||27.2%|
|Last 4 games||17.9%|
Pitchers have responded to Machado’s prowess by simply throwing him less of what he wants. Hanwha Eagles pitchers, who lead the league in ERA, were especially crafty, only offering him fastballs 14% of the time over the course of a 3-game series. As a result, Machado only had 2 hits in that series and grounded into a double play that, WPA-wise (-0.22), damaged his reputation as a clutch hitter.
I wondered if Machado’s struggles against off-speed and breaking pitches were consistent with his 2018, his last year in the majors. According to Baseball Savant, it’s a bit ambiguous:
By SLG%, Machado hit fastballs markedly better than he did breaking balls, but worse than off-speed pitches, which Savant defines as Splitters, Changeups, Forkballs and screwballs. It’s the opposite of his 2020! However, if we look at xSLG%, the story is different:
Perhaps Machado’s performance on expected metrics in 2018 were a sign of what was to come in 2020. And that’s with MLB pitchers throwing fastballs 60.2% of time in 2018. Last year, KBO pitchers threw fastballs only 39.8% of the time, which translates into far less opportunities for Machado.
Regression is expected of Dixon Machado, but he also needs to change. He needs to adapt to his new environment by either squaring up exclusively on fastballs or training himself to hit breaking and off-speed pitches, just like how the KBO has adapted to this new foreign hitter already – and will continue to do so.
All statistics are from Statiz.com and Baseball Savant.