December 9, 2022

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Padres star's most underrated quality is …

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This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell’s Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

On some level, we can all appreciate what Manny Machado is doing this season. But you know who really appreciates the work of an all-time great third baseman? How about another all-time great third baseman?

Matt Williams, a five-time All-Star who played 17 big league seasons and racked up 378 homers and four Gold Gloves, is Machado’s third-base coach. He’s in his first season in that role with the Padres — and his first season getting to watch Machado up close. Williams always knew Machado was good. He didn’t know Machado was this good.

“His attention to the detail of it is remarkable,” Williams said. “He’s a tremendous athlete, and he’s so smooth. But for me, it’s the innate thought that goes into everything he does.”

Earlier this month, Machado passed Williams on the all-time WAR leaderboard among third basemen, ascending to 29th in the sport’s long history. Of course, it’s worth noting Machado has racked up 48 WAR, and he isn’t even 30 yet. During Spring Training, he said he’d like to play until he’s 40, and considering the way he looks after his body, it’d be foolish to doubt him.

Machado is on a Hall of Fame trajectory. And while the rest of us are drawn to the incredible plays he makes at third base, and the missiles he hits at the plate, Williams has seen that before. It doesn’t quite catch his eye the way something else does.

“For me, it’s the routine play,” Williams said. “Playing 162, playing every single day, it’s the routine play. He just does it. He just knows how to do it. He knows, ‘Hey, this guy’s got good speed, my clock has to be faster.’ He’s got a great feel that not everyone has.”

You know what? I think Williams is onto something. For all the ooh-ing and ahh-ing we do when Machado makes a highlight-reel play, we should probably spend more time appreciating his steadiness. The last time he missed double-digit games in a season? 2014. Machado plays every day, makes all the routine plays, does all the little things — and then, on occasion, he’ll make a diving stop up the third-base line or crush a baseball 450 feet.

Oh, and one other thing Williams missed when he was managing or coaching from the other dugout?

“You see him from the other side of the diamond, and you really don’t know what makes the guy tick,” Williams said. “For me, his leadership has been really, really incredible. It’s constant.

“During the game, in-game, it’s the way he’s constantly going from one guy to another to give a piece of advice or to let them know that they’re OK or to congratulate them on doing something well. Coaches can accomplish that goal. But it always carries more weight when it’s a player of his caliber. When he’s walking up to [top prospect] C.J. [Abrams] during the course of the game, praising him for a job well done, that’s invaluable. It’s not something that can be forced. It has to come naturally, and it does with him.”

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