For many 2014, felt like the Orioles’ best chance for a World Series. Baltimore crushed its AL East competition the way it crushed balls over the fence; the Orioles had made the fabled Big Splash that fans longed for, except it was in the form of low-cost pseudo-reclamation project Nelson Cruz. It was potentially homegrown talent Nick Markakis’ last year in black and orange. Dan Duquette traded a long-run asset for short-term help in the form of Andrew Miller. The Orioles were all set and the fans were psyched to finally have the mixture of young talent, big names, hidden gems, and effective pitchers that need to come together to win a World Series. Then the team ran into unlikely buzzsaw Kansas City and the season ended, many felt, prematurely.
Long before the offseason began, questions swirled about whether and how the Orioles might try to retain the services of Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz, and Andrew Miller. In the end, all three left Baltimore for greener – not literally, Camden Yards is beautiful, but money-wise – pastures. Whether Dan Duquette made the right decision in each case won’t be definitive for many years, but it’s worth checking in on how each is doing and how the Orioles have replaced, respectively, a homegrown favorite, a monster power hitter, and an unhittable reliever.
In this miniseries, I’ll explore how each of the departures has fared in their new cities, how the Orioles have replaced them so far in 2015, and the relative cost of going each route.
Discuss Nick Markakis’ departure and the Orioles’ attempts to replace him on the BSL forums.
The saga of the Nick Markakis contract was emotionally challenging for many in Baltimore. Every year, Markakis seemed to be pegged as a breakout candidate, even into his late 20s. The wonderful, raw start to his career gave way to a consistent but never spectacular pure hitter. Had he been drafted by any other team, had any other name, had any attitude (Markakis always seemed to love Baltimore and its people and was by all accounts a great teammate) other than the one he did, fans might have been ready to let Markakis walk over an extra year or a few million dollars. Instead, there was a pull of wanting the man but maybe not the player, at least at that price.
So Nick Markakis traveled south, to Atlanta, to join the National League and play for the Braves. The Orioles have this far replaced his presence in right field with a heavy dose of Delmon Young and some Travis Snider and Alejandro De Aza.
Here’s how the Orioles’ batting activity has fared in right field compared to Markakis in Atlanta:
Orioles Composite: .312 average, .350 on-base %, 1 hr
Nick Markakis: .298 average, .390 on-base %, 0 hr
The Orioles have so far appeared to sacrifice some walks in favor of a slightly higher batting average. Markakis has always had a good sense of the strike zone, and Delmon Young has never been known to take walks – this generally makes sense, though I suspect that most people would have expected Markakis to hit better than what looks like a revolving door in Baltimore. Of course, this is subject to a handful of issues, not the least of which is a small sample size. This isn’t one player for the Orioles, this is three players who all have yet to see 100 plate attempts in right field this season. It’s also implicitly assuming that they hit differently in right field than they do in left or at designated hitter. For a first-time right fielder like De Aza, maybe it could be reasoned that learning a new position is taking his energy away from the plate – but that would be a dubious claim, since he’s hitting .357/.455 in a small sample while playing in right. The Orioles aren’t really getting a better player than Markakis, they’re just playing a handful of different players (all of whom are hitting worse than Markakis on the whole this season!) who have done well while stationed in right field.
Markakis’ other calling card during his time in Baltimore had been his defense. A two-time Gold Glove winner, his defense was regarded as steady and predictable, if not sometimes outright great. The Orioles’ current right fielders are one who had never played right until this season (De Aza), one who most had never wanted to see in right (Young), and one regarded as a good defensive player but too old to expect to keep improving. So far, they’ve more or less matched Markakis, in terms of fielding by Inside Edge metrics:
Orioles Composite: 385 innings, Impossible 0%, Remote 0%, Unlikely 0%, Even 50%, Likely 83.33%, Routine 100%
Nick Markakis: 408 innings, Impossible 0%, Remote 0%, Unlikely 0%, Even 50%, Likely 100%, Routine 100%
Markakis has done a bit better on balls considered likely to be caught, but that’s just going 10-for-10 on tries instead of the Orioles’ 5-for-6 – it’s pretty easy to say that those are roughly equal. This might not be how many people have felt about right field competency in Baltimore so far this year, but it’s worth noting that Orioles’ right fielders have been served up 27 impossible balls to Markakis’ 14. They aren’t supposed to be catching 23% of the balls hit to them so far!
Finally, the Orioles will pay Snider, Young, and De Aza a total of $9.35 million this year, assuming each plays all season with the team. That’s already less than the $11 million that the Braves are paying Markakis. The Orioles are getting double-duty out of some of these players, though. True to the team’s love of versatility, Snider, Young, and De Aza have all played in multiple positions. By weighting each’s paycheck by the percentage of time he’s spent in right field, we can come up with an estimated salary for the Orioles’ composite right fielder, assuming they play in the same amounts for the rest of the season:
Orioles Composite: Pay in RF $4,185,819, Pay Total $9,350,000
Nick Markakis: Pay in RF $10,735,577, Pay Total $11,000,000
So far, it seems the Orioles have made out pretty well in their decision to let Markakis walk in the offseason, but expect that to be less apparent when the players roaming right field start to hit, well, they way they hit in large samples. However, the team reaps the benefits of flexibility in right field – a positive if they take advantage of it in the form of platoons (they seem to be doing so) and actively looking for upgrades (perhaps doubtful). So far, it seems like the Orioles made the right decision to let Markakis go.
Patrick was the co-founder of Observational Studies, a blog which focused on the analysis and economics of professional sports. The native of Carroll County graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Loyola University Maryland. Patrick works at a regional economic development and marketing firm in Baltimore, and in his free time plays lacrosse.