Nick Markakis’ Strong Start
A few weeks ago my colleague Patrick Dougherty detailed Nick Markakis’ career so far; encapsulating the thoughts and feelings of O’s fans over the past decade. Patrick summarized Markakis as:
The things that Markakis can do, he does well. He’s about the only player that I feel I can consistently expect to bat around .300 and strike out relatively little. He tends to walk at an okay clip, but without serious power, he’s not going to get walks like Davis might. He plays serviceable defense that I suspect is better than the numbers describe it to be, has a pretty good arm, and something something clubhouse leader.
All of what Patrick described is valid and summarizes Markakis over the past few seasons. In 2012 Markakis created a new role for himself on the team as his skills listed above by Patrick lent themselves perfectly for a leadoff hitter, something the O’s desperately missed in recent seasons. The question was how would he perform in this new role.
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See Nick run; see Nick hit; see Nick actually get on base unlike the rest of the lineup.
(May 10, 2014 – Source: Greg Fiume/Getty Images North America)
Over 246 plate appearances as the leadoff hitter Markakis posted a .335/.390/.485 line with only 5 home runs but 20 walks to just 14 strikeouts. It seemed that he had found his niche as his skill set seemed to allow him to thrive in this new role. Would the O’s continue to push the veteran and team leader into the leadoff role, or move him back to his normal 3 slot in the lineup in subsequent seasons?
In 2013 Nick once again split time between the first and third spots in the lineup. His lack of power made him stick out like a sore thumb in the three spot in the lineup, but he once again thrived as a leadoff man:
Batting 1st – .319/.352/.368 in 159 PA
Batting 3rd – .263/.327/.369 in 388 PA
Ignore for a moment that his batting line itself suggests an earlier (or much later) spot in the lineup, he seemed more comfortable in the leadoff spot and it seemed a better fit for his skill set.
Going into 2014 many fans wanted Markakis to lead off, but few expected the O’s to go through with that plan. He did however lock down the leadoff spot early on with just Jemile Weeks and David Lough getting a few looks in the leadoff spot.
The first 10% or so of Nick’s season was, well, not very good. In 59 plate appearances he hit just .248 with a grand total of two walks and the same number of extra base hits. At his inflated salary fans responded with a chorus of boos and demands that Markakis be let go once his contract could be bought out.
Since then however, Markakis has hit .365 over 97 plate appearances including 12 walks and seven extra base hits. That hot streak has raised his season line to:
Markakis’ 118 wRC+ puts him well above average compared to his peers. He’s also one of the few players on the O’s roster who walks fairly often, and at least doesn’t strike out at an alarming rate. He doesn’t have the pop we once expected, but he doesn’t necessarily need that in the leadoff spot.
Last season the O’s leadoff spot generated a triple slash of .266/.331/.385, something that Markakis can no doubt improve on if he spends the full season in that role. His .372 OBP would be a huge boon to an offense that struggles at times because they hit a large number of solo home runs because nobody gets on base in front of the sluggers.
While Nick’s defense is never going to be loved by the advanced metrics, he has a chance to put up a solid season and easily be worth his salary in 2014. More than that, his specific role in the lineup is crucially important to the success of this team. As such it’s ok to get a little excited about the O’s embracing Nick’s perfect fit in the lineup.