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The Colorado Rockies and Ryan McMahon take on the San Diego Padres at Coors Field in June. Photo by Matt Dirksen
The Insider’s Guide to the 2021 MLB All-Star Game in Denver

How Ryan McMahon Became One of the Rockies Best Players

The versatile infielder may not have made the 2021 MLB All-Star Game, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been one of the best players in baseball this season. 5280 asked him how he improved each aspect of his game over the past few months.

Ryan McMahon definitely spent some time wondering whether or not he would make the MLB All-Star Game this season. “Like, dude, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been thinking about it,” the 26-year-old Colorado Rockies infielder says in mid-June. “It would be such an honor to be thought of as one of the top guys in the game. It would be all kinds of cool, especially with it being [in Denver].”

While McMahon’s vision of playing in the Midsummer Classic won’t become a reality, he arguably has been the Rockies best player this season, smashing monster home runs and making head-turning defensive plays seemingly every time he steps on the field. Despite the Rockies poor overall play this season, McMahon’s run of form has also cemented him as one of the team’s cornerstones moving forward.

For Rockies fans, McMahon’s breakout was expected, though a bit delayed. He was touted as one of the team’s top prospects—possibly one of the top prospects in baseball—coming up through the minor leagues in the mid-2010s. And he showed tantalizing snippets of talent at the Major League level the past few years (see his walkoff home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the midst of a heated playoff race in 2018). The flashy defensive plays (at multiple infield positions) and his booming bat, however, didn’t show up as consistently as he or the organization would’ve hoped.

So, how did he put it all together in 2021? We asked the almost All-Star to break down every part of his game—from the two positions he plays (second and third base) to his hitting to his, ahem, atypical off-the-field diet.

Second Base

Ryan McMahon loves turning double plays. Like, a lot. “Dude, it’s seriously so much fun getting two outs on one play,” he says. Being the man in the middle of all that defensive wizardry took some time for him to figure out, though. McMahon spent most of his high school years and early pro career playing first and third base. After the departure of second base stalwart DJ LeMahieu following the 2018 season, however, the middle infield position offered a place where McMahon could steal more regular playing time. “This year, I think I finally realized what my potential could be [at second],” the California native says. “It took me some time to figure out the angles and how to attack the ball. You just have so much more time than at third or shortstop.” Notably, he says he has gotten significantly better at getting to balls heading up the middle of the field.

Key Stat: Seven defensive runs saved (DRS) while playing second base as of June 30, which is tied for most in the National League. McMahon’s spot atop the second base DRS leaderboard is equally remarkable when you consider he’s played about 200 fewer innings at the position than many of the other leaders.

Top Play at the Position: During a June 2 game against the Texas Rangers, McMahon showed off just how far his newfound range up the middle of the field goes.

Third Base

Growing up, McMahon’s position of choice was third base, mostly because he was “too slow to play shortstop,” he says. His pedigree at the corner infield spot made him the most likely person to take over for Nolan Arenado after the longtime Colorado Rockies third baseman was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in the offseason. But injuries—as well as McMahon’s overall versatility—have led him to play about equal time at second and third, which is rare for one of the best players in the league. Still, McMahon’s skills at the hot corner have been evident all year. He says he feels like the barehanded plays he’s made on short dribbling hits have been especially impressive. He has also made plenty of nifty plays on some hard hit balls, though he does admit that having a ball smacked his way at 100 mph is still the toughest part of the position for him. “Sometimes a big dude will be in the box, and you can just tell he is going to smash one over,” he says. “These guys hit the ball hard, and you never know how it’s going to move down the line there.”

Key Stat: 1.4 total defensive wins above replacement (WAR), a stat that measures how valuable a player has been compared to an average player at the same position. McMahon’s number is the second highest defensive WAR in all of Major League Baseball, meaning he has been arguably one of the most valuable defensive players that is not a pitcher in the entire sport in 2021.

Top Play at the Position: New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor tried to bunt the ball down the third base line during a game on May 27; McMahon had something to say about that.

Hitting

McMahon spent the offseason working on being quicker to the ball with his swing. “In years past, I was hitting a lot of fastballs into the ground,” he says. “But I have been able to consistently hit the ball in the air more [this year] compared to other years.“ The shorter approach has also made him feel more comfortable covering previous trouble spots: Pitchers would often attack him with fastballs up and in or with off-speed stuff low and away. Overall, he is having the best offensive season of his career. “This game is so hard,” he says. “There are so many things that can set you off just a tick. And if you’re off just a tick, you aren’t going to square something up. I’m feeling good about a swing I can repeat.”

Key Stat: 16 home runs as of June 30. The most McMahon has ever hit in a single season was 24 in 2019.

Top Play at the Plate: On April 6, McMahon launched three homers in the same game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Off the Field

The aspiring All-Star willingly admits his life outside of the ballpark hasn’t changed much this season. “I still wake up at 11 a.m. most days,” he says. Before games, he watches film on the pitcher the Rox are facing that day and takes his time in the batting cage. He also regularly pings one of his closest confidants, Jordan Patterson (who no longer plays professional baseball but was one of McMahon’s teammates throughout the minor leagues) about what he saw in his play from the game before. “I do better when I keep things more fun and loose,” McMahon says when asked what he tries to keep in mind while preparing. After games at Coors Field, there is a good chance Hopdoddy Burger Bar is whipping up something tasty for the Rockies star. “Dude, I crush Hopdoddy burgers,” he says. “Those Parmesan fries are so good. Oh, and the shakes.”

Top Play after a Game: McMahon certainly seems to have the moxie to be an All-Star.

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