By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
8:44 PM EDT, July 17, 2013
These days, it seems that Manny Machado would rather earn bragging rights by beating a teammate in ping-pong inside the Orioles clubhouse than discuss his possible place in baseball history. He'd rather coax manager Buck Showalter, 35 years his elder, into getting more apps on his iPhone than affirm his chase of an 82-year-old record.
But when the unofficial second half of the season kicks off for the Orioles in Texas on Friday night, Machado will resume his pursuit of one of baseball's longest-standing single-season marks.
Machado has the best opportunity of any player in more than a decade to break Earl Webb's doubles record of 67, which was set in 1931 for the Boston Red Sox. Machado's 39 doubles are the most at the All-Star break since the Seattle Mariners' Edgar Martinez hit 42 in 1996, and they put him on pace for 66.
And it's only a subplot that Machado just turned 21 this month.
"Well, he sure is setting the standards high for himself," Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis said with a smirk.
Machado's chase of Webb's mark will be one of the top storylines of the second half as the Orioles aim for another postseason berth, but it won't be the main focus for the club's precocious third baseman.
"It's something I'm not going to think about," said Machado, who has played more games at the break (96) than all recent challengers to the record . "It's not my goal. My goal is to make the playoffs. To be honest, a record is a record. It's something that's set in stone. Don't get me wrong, it's a great accomplishment and I'm honored to even be in the race. But my main goal is to make the playoffs. I want to win a World Series with this team. ...
"I'm going to be thinking about winning, and a part of that is knowing you're going to get your singles, your homers and your doubles. For me it's been doubles. Hopefully I keep hitting them and we keep winning at the same time."
Still, it's difficult not to get caught up in the chase. Last week, Showalter joked that he was on the verge of asking the official scorer at Camden Yards to take away a base on Machado's triple against the Texas Rangers on July 10. Showalter said he reviewed the play and believed Texas center fielder Engel Beltre bobbled the ball in the outfield, so it should have been ruled a double with an error.
"I was thinking about going to the official scorer and for the first time in history try to make something a double instead of a triple," Showalter said. "We looked at it. I didn't turn it in. [MLB executive vice president for baseball operations Joe] Torre would have killed me."
Seeing Machado leg out a triple without hesitation tells Showalter all he needs to know, that his young third baseman isn't going to sacrifice the chance to win for an individual accolade.
"Whether he gets it or doesn't get this record, it's not going to affect what he does," Showalter said. "A lot of guys might have stopped at second base, but he realized that it was good for him to be on third base with one out, so he kept going."
A record tough to rationalize
Machado's chances of breaking Webb's mark will rely on several factors out of his control. Doubles aren't only a product player's ability to place balls down the lines and into the gaps, but other factors such as stadium dimensions.
John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, believes playing at Camden Yards will help Machado's chase.
"Manny Machado is a great young player whose pursuit of Webb's mark may be aided by the short power alleys at Camden Yards," Thorn said. "The park tends to turn potential triples into doubles. Webb's mark is a great baseball outlier, like Owen Wilson's 36 triples in 1912. I don't think that mark will ever be topped, but then again, I once thought the same of Webb's."
Since 1993, five other players have gone into the All-Star break with 37 or more doubles. Of that group, the Houston Astros' Craig Biggio came the closest to Webb's record with 56 doubles in 1999. Martinez's bid in 1996 was derailed by a rib injury that forced him to miss 22 games.
Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts hit a franchise record 56 doubles in 2009 and was steady throughout the season, but he never really challenged Webb's mark. In 2000, the Colorado Rockies' Todd Helton used a post-break surge to hit 59 doubles, the most since 1936, but he hit just six doubles in the season's final month.
There was a sudden boon in doubles totals during Webb's era. Five of the six highest single-season doubles totals were posted between 1931 and 1936. A year after Webb set the record, the Pittsburgh Pirates' Paul Waner set a new National League mark with 62 doubles.
"I don't know why there would be [an era] for doubles," said Bill Nowlin, the vice president for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). "I could see it for home runs. You have all kinds of explanations you can look at for statistics — when the race barrier dropped, which is also the same time teams started playing night games. A lot of things started changing in the middle-40s, but I don't know how any of that would have changes hitting doubles. … There are things that are just outliers, things that just happen. It's just that nobody has gotten to 67. Probably someone will some day."
As for why Webb — who was 33 and playing for his third team in 1931 — had such a dramatic season is still mostly a mystery. Webb hit just 30 doubles the year before and 28 the year after. Nowlin said he knows of no spray charts that show where Webb hit his doubles.
"It was a total personal outlier," Nowlin said. "It's just sort of happened. He had hot spells and cold spells like people will. Looking at Machado, he's real close. If he should suffer an injury or get in a cold spell, it would make it more difficult. On the other hand, he could take off. You see Miguel Cabrera get the first Triple Crown since 1967 [last season]. It's not quite the same as the doubles record, but it's half a century almost."
One theory is that Fenway Park's spacious alley in right-center was a treasure trove for the left-handed hitting Webb and that he could have even settled for doubles on hits that could have been triples. After tallying six triple in 1930, Webb had just three in 1931, and he had nine in each of the next two seasons.
"He was light in '31," Nowlin said. "Maybe he would have had 64 or 63 doubles. He still had an awful lot of doubles."
"His own worst enemy"
One remarkable aspect of Machado's run is the fact that he's hit the ball all over the field. Of his 39 doubles, right-handed hitting Machado has hit 11 to the right side of the field, according to a spray chart provided by ESPN Stats and Information. Machado's highest concentration has been down the left-field line, where he's pulled 18 of his doubles.
"It speaks to just his talent level and how well he can adjust," Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said. "You just don't chase any record unless you're able to hit a lot of pitches well. He's able hit balls the other way, he's able to pull balls. For a younger player to have that kind of advanced approach to be able to use the whole field, it speaks what kind of hitter he is. In this league if you have one pitch you hit well, the pitcher is going to figure it out and pitch you a different way, but he's able to adjust to pitchers and see the pitch and hit it where it's pitched."
Machado's pace has stalled. He had 38 doubles after 83 games — and was on pace for 74 — but he's hit just one over his past 13 games.
Former major leaguer and current ESPN analyst Alex Cora said Machado's biggest obstacle might be some of those doubles turning into home runs.
"In some ways, he might end up being his own worst enemy," Cora said. "As the season goes on, a lot of those balls might start becoming home runs. It's getting warmer and that stadium is a good place for homers."
Machado agrees that he still has room to grow, and he hopes his doubles stroke will translate into more homers as he matures.
"With more experience at the plate, you're going to be a smarter hitter," he said. "Definitely with more experience, hopefully they do turn into home runs. I haven't gotten my man strength yet. Eventually that will come. And when that time comes, hopefully they will go out. Hopefully they will. In the meantime, I'll just keep hitting doubles and getting on base."
Markakis, another hitter who was expected produce more power because of his early-career doubles numbers, said the stats alone aren't a true indicator.
"It's hard to tell," Markakis said. "Some guys fill out. A lot of people say guys will fill out. These days you don't know what the heck to expect with what everyone is doing these days. I lot of people mature differently. If he fills out like everybody says and thinks he's going to do, yeah, I think he's going to start turning some of those doubles into home runs."
Markakis also said that with Machado's smooth swing producing its share of line drives — 24 of his doubles have come on line drives — there should be patience in waiting for him to develop power.
"The other thing you've got to look at is he's not a guy who goes out there and flies out to the warning track," Markakis said. "He's a guy who drives the ball and hits line drives and works gap to gap, hits them down the lines and works the whole field. Power is the last thing that's going to come. I think the thing that impresses me the most is his swing and his approach at the plate. If I was the manager, I'd take that every day and if the power didn't come, then that's fine."
Showalter is indeed fine with that.
"Here's the deal," the manager said. "I don't think that he's going to hit this many home runs or this ball's going to carry. Manny is a line drive guy, and I just think he's going to be as good as he's capable of being. That's the only thing I want to know. … I'm confident when I go to bed at night that he's going to be as good as he's capable of being. That's the only thing I ask. What he will be, nobody knows. His home run totals could go down. I don't know. I'm OK with it. But he's going to reach his potential, as long as we don't screw him up."
Most doubles at the All-Star break
A look at hitters who had the most doubles at the All-Star break in major league history. Machado has played more games than the rest of the field, but he is still on pace for 66 doubles, which would be one shy of the single-season record
Name Team Year Doubles at break Games at break Season total
Edgar Martinez Sea. 1996 42 85 52
Manny Machado O’s 2013 39 96 ??
Craig Biggio Hou. 1999 38 87 56
Chuck Knoblauch Minn. 1994 37 83 45
John Olerud Tor. 1993 37 87 54
Lyle Overbay Mil. 2004 37 86 53
George Burns Cle. 1926 36 78 64
Paul Waner Pit. 1932 36 72 62
Earl Webb Bos. (AL) 1931 36 73 67
Most doubles in a single season
Name Team Year Doubles
Earl Webb Bos. (AL) 1931 67
Joe Medwick St.L. (NL) . 1936 64
George Burns Cle. 1926 64
Hank Greenberg Det. 1934 63
Paul Waner Pit. 1932 62
Charlie Gehringer Det. 1936 60
Todd Helton Col. 2000 59
Chuck Klein Phi. (NL) 1930 59
Tris Speaker Cle. 1923 59
Carlos Delgado Tor. 2000 57
Billy Herman Chi (NL) 1936 57
Billy Herman Chi (NL) 1935 57
Brian Roberts O’s 2009 56
Garret Anderson LAA 2002 56
Nomar Garciaparra Bos. 2002 56
Craig Biggio Hou. 1999 56
George Kell Det. 1950 56
Joe Medwick Stl. (NL) 1937 56
Lance Berkman Hou. 2001 55
Gee Walker Det. 1936 55
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