Nick Markakis And The Need For Patience

It wasn’t all that long ago when Nick Markakis represented a crop of young, up and coming outfielders. Markakis was the new breed of baseball player–he got on base, hit for a bit of power, ran the bases well, and played stellar defense. He peaked in 2008 as a 24 year old when he posted a .306/.406/.491 line with 48 doubles, 20 home runs, a .392 wOBA, and 138 wRC+. Along with that offense, he posted elite level defensive metrics, including 22 defensive runs saved and an 11.9 UZR. We were still fighting the effects of the steroids era in terms of how to judge a player. Markakis was underrated then.

{Discuss Markakis and his approach on the BSL Board}

The Orioles bet on Markakis after that 2008 season, signing him to a six year $66.1 million deal along with a $17.5 million option for 2015. While Markakis has fulfilled the contract in some ways, he has not become the star–and therefore the bargain–that the Orioles have hoped. Aside from his freak hit by pitch injury in 2012, Markakis has missed just a dozen games since becoming a full time starter. There is value in having a player who never gets hurt and never misses a game. In that way, the Orioles’ chance on Markakis was validated. But, after that 6.2 WAR 2008 season, he has never compiled a season above 2.4 WAR. Last season, he put together a slightly sub replacement level year as indicated by his minus-0.1 WAR value.

Essentially Markakis is entering his contract  year as there is no chance that the Orioles will exercise the $17.5 million option. With the Orioles’ offseason a series of waiting around, rumors, and signing role players, Markakis’ performance will have a significant impact on whether or not the Orioles can contend for a playoff spot.

That actually is a bit on the cliche side as baseball is never about just one person. Markakis is, however, a key component to the roster considering its construction. The Orioles have a solid core of Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, JJ Hardy, and Markakis. After that, they are a team of spare parts. With no impact player available on the market, the Orioles will hope for the core to carry them and allow Manager Buck Showalter to utilize the spare parts in the hopes of maximizing results.

Of the core, only Manny Machado projects to be considerably better than last season. Jones, Davis, Wieters, and Hardy have little to no ceiling left in terms of improved offensive production. That leaves Markakis as the only bounce back candidate.

Most of Markakis’ lost WAR value is related to his defense. Once a defensive metrics darling, Markakis now rates as one of the worst defensive right fielders in the sport by DRS and UZR. Offensively, it appears he has been in a decline since that peak 2008 season. Except, his 2012 season was going well until CC Sabathia’s pitch broke his thumb. He was posting a rebound season in which he hit .298/.368/.471, his best season since that breakout year.

Perhaps it was the broken thumb that sapped him of his power in 2013 or maybe it was another of the myriad of reasons that have been floating around Baltimore. 2013, the season in which the Orioles paid Markakis $15 million, saw him hit just .271/.329/.356 with 24 doubles and 10 home runs. Many will point to his performance in the leadoff spot as encouraging as he hit .319/.352/.368 in 31 games as a leadoff man. But, that line points to exactly what has plagued Markakis since 2008. His on base percentage has now become directly linked to his batting average. In 2008, he posted a walk rate of 14.2 percent. Last year, he posted a career low 7.7 % walk rate. While the .352 on base percentage looks excellent as a leadoff hitter, it has more to do that he had a solid 31 games when he hit nearly .320. He walked 10 times during that span, but that came against 18 strikeouts, his worst strikeout to walk ratio in any spot in the lineup.

That doesn’t mean that Markakis lacks the skill set to hit in the leadoff spot. In fact, he looks to be the best option for the job. In order to succeed as a leadoff hitter, Markakis will have to show that he still has some plate discipline. It’s not even all about taking walks. It’s about a better approach at the plate.

Last year, Markakis posted a z-contact rating of 92.8 percent. That means that he made contact with pitches thrown for strikes almost 93 percent of the time. That is an elite skill as the league average was 87 percent. But, he also posted an 82.6 percent O-contact rating (pitches thrown outside of the strike zone). The league average was just 66 percent. While Markakis has done this throughout his career, he is swinging at more pitches outside of the strike zone than ever before. In that magical 2008 season, he swung at just 18 percent of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone. Since then, he has swung at more pitches outside of the strike zone each season, culminating in a career high 28.6 percent in 2013. With limited power, the approach has to change.

With the rise in bad swing selection and his elite ability to make contact, Nick Markakis posted his worst ground ball percentage since his rookie season (46.6 percent). That coincides with his career worst BABIP of .291.

In many ways, 2013 can be looked at as a sort of lost year. He was coming off of injury for the first time in his career. Thumb injuries are tricky in that they impact swings and power. But, 2013 was really part of a trend of Markakis’ poor plate discipline. Without a change in approach, the now 30 year old Markakis will never be more than a replacement level player. With his elite skill of making contact, a slight change in plate discipline would allow him to get on base at a better rate and be a true asset to the Orioles in the leadoff spot. It would also allow him to get a decent contract following the 2014 season. With his seemingly lost defensive skill and stagnant power, he must find a way to get on base.

Being more selective is his key. It’s also the key for the Orioles as they have enough power, but must improve on the 10th best on base percentage in the American League. Nick Markakis is the key if he can just develop a little patience.

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About the author


Gary Armida  

Gary Armida is a Father to the best little girl in the world. After that, he is a writer who has been covering Major League Baseball since 2007. During that time, Gary operated FullCountpitch.com, one of the first independent online sites that gained Major League Baseball media credentials. Over the years, he has covered two Winter Meetings and has written feature articles for a variety of outlets while interviewing Major League personnel such as Rick Peterson, Jason Giambi, Zack Wheeler, Jeff Luhnow, Jack Zduriencik, Michael Bourn, and many others. In addition to his work at BSL, Gary contributes to USA Today Sports Weekly and maintains his personal site, garyarmida.com, that serves as his portfolio as well as a place for additional content.


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