Manny Machado spent the entire 2013-14 offseason rehabbing from a torn medial patellar femoral ligament (MPFL), and he’ll spend the entire 2014-15 offseason doing exactly the same thing. Machado tore his right MPFL in August 2014, nearly a year after tearing his left MPFL. I have taken a strong interest in Machado’s recovery because I had the same injury and surgery to my left knee, and the procedure and rehab are brutal to recover from.
From what I understand, what happens with this injury is that there is a subluxation, or partial dislocation, of the kneecap which tears the medial patellar femoral ligament and creates chronic kneecap instability. Surgery must be performed to create a more stable knee joint or else the athlete risks reoccurring kneecap subluxations. The subluxation happens when the knee collapses inward and is bent at a dangerous angle, which makes the knee vulnerable because the muscles of the quadriceps and hip aren’t in position to adequately support the knee. For a visual, take a look at Machado’s right knee after he hits this home run on July 7 against the Nationals. See how his knee is bent inward, with his foot outside of the knee instead of under the knee?
The inward, bent angle makes the knee vulnerable to injury, which is ultimately what happened. Here’s Machado subluxating his right kneecap nearly a month later. For those who don’t want to see, scroll down away from the .gif.
After his 2013 surgery on his left knee, Machado went through a hard offseason of left leg rehab and limited baseball activity and subsequently struggled badly in his return to the big leagues, posting a .220/.271/.284 (.555 OPS) with a brutal 56 wRC+ in 119 PA over the first month of his return. I attribute this to rust and poor timing; it’s hard to face big league pitching with virtually no spring training and only three rehab games in the minors after a full offseason of leg rehab. Once Machado regained his timing, he began showcasing his superstar potential. After his first month back, Machado posted a fantastic .307/.350/.505 (.855 OPS) line the rest of the way with a 139 wRC+, 10 HR, 25 R and 27 RBI over his last 235 PA. It’s a bit of an arbitrary endpoint, because we don’t know exactly when Machado regained his timing, but it’s an example of the stark difference between Machado’s rusty first month and the rest of his season. Had Machado had a normal spring, I don’t think he would have struggled nearly as badly as he did in his first month.
Machado’s sizzling summer had me pinpointing 2015 as his breakout season offensively until Machado tore the MPFL in his right knee. The team thinks that this injury isn’t as bad as the 2013 injury because the ligament wasn’t fully torn, but I think this could be a worse injury for Machado because he’s a right handed hitter. Machado loads up on his right leg with a small leg kick and transfers his power through his right leg to generate his swing. This is a different dynamic than Machado recovering from surgery on his lead leg. It’s unclear how his surgically repaired right leg will hold up in year 1 post operation.
Machado remains confident he will be ready for spring training in 2015. That would be a big step in the right direction for his 2015 production. If Machado misses all or part of the spring again this year, we can probably expect him to struggle out of the gate again in 2015. One positive for Machado being ready for spring training is that he had the surgery 6 weeks earlier on the 2014 calendar in comparison to his 2013 surgery timeline.
Ultimately, I expect Machado to be a superstar with his bat in fantasy baseball. Camden Yards is a terrific hitters park for right handed hitters and the entire AL East is filled with hitter friendly ballparks. For Machado to play over 100 games in these parks every year is a big plus for his HR, R and RBI totals. I think Machado can realistically attain a .300 average, 30 HR and a .900 OPS at his peak. It's still possible Machado breaks out in 2015 offensively, but I would tend to think he'll struggle early. If you are keeping Machado in a keeper league or plan on drafting him, I would brace for a subpar first month or two. If you can be patient, Machado is a good candidate to have strong production once the summer hits, just like he did in 2013.