Nick Markakis was the one player on the Baltimore Orioles in 2007 and 2008 that teams did not want to face at the plate. After a very good rookie campaign in 2006, Markakis became a star in the next two seasons and compiled 11.6 rWAR during those two seasons (10.6 fWAR). In 2013, this same Nick Markakis became one of the least valuable players in baseball with -0.1 WAR on both major stat sites despite playing 160 games. What happened to Nick Markakis? Was this a case of a-wrist-ed development?
Markakis came within a whisker of that magical .300/.400/.500 slash line when he finished, .306/.406/.491 in 2008. He was the eleventh most valuable player in 2008 with the fourteenth highest wOBA in baseball. His fielding was also rated excellent with Baseball Info Solutions giving him 22 runs above average in right field. Fangraphs gave him eleven runs above average. Either way, Nick Markakis had, by 2008 become one of the best players in baseball. He was 24 years old.
But then he started slipping. It was not real perceptible at first. His wOBA fell to a still healthy .349 in 2009. That same stat improved a bit to .353 in 2010 but fell again to .333 in 2011. His once promising career was heading in the wrong direction as even his fielding slipped precipitously.
The slide could be seen most dramatically in the slugging percentage. Since 2008, when his slugging percentage finished at .491 as stated, these are his successive three seasons: .453, .436, .406. There was clearly something going wrong with Markakis.
We received a bit of a clue when Markakis underwent surgery early in the 2012 season to remove parts of his hamate bone in his right wrist. It can never be good when something is so messed up that they have to remove parts of your body to fix it. That surgery gave a clue that perhaps Markakis was slipping due to an ailing wrist.
But here is the confusing part. Before going on the disabled list on June 1, 2012, Markakis was having a bit of a renaissance. He had hit eight homers by that time and had slugged over .500 in May of that season. After he returned from the surgery on July 13, he was pretty decent over the next several months. He only hit a couple of homers a month, but his wOBA rebounded to .359. His season ISO of .174 was his highest since 2008.
But then CC Sabathia broke his thumb with a pitch on September 8, 2012 and his season was finished.
And then came last year. Despite coming to the plate 700 times in 2013, Markakis only hit ten homers and 24 doubles. Both were less than what he did in 471 plate appearances the year before. His slugging percentage of .356 was the eleventh lowest among all qualified players. His walk percentage was down. His OPS was .685, the seventeenth lowest of all qualified players.
Due to his positional fielding not highly valued in right field and with diminishing results as a fielder to go along with that, Markakis hit bottom as a Major League player. His fWAR placed him as the fifth least valuable player of all qualifying players in 2013.
Source: FanGraphs -- Nick Markakis
When Markakis was hitting on all cylinders, the Orioles gave him a six-year, $66 million deal that looked like a great investment at the time. 2014 is the last year on that contract unless some sort of miracle happens and the team wants to take his $17.5 million option, that same contract has become a burden for the tight-cash team in Baltimore. His $15 million salary in 2014 for a player who had a negative value in 2013 is a big problem.
But is there any hope for Markakis to return to some of his former glory? You cannot tell from the projection systems. Steamer has him rebounding only slightly to a .334 wOBA and 1.4 WAR, but that is nowhere near where he was. Oliver projections is much more pessimistic and not only thinks Markakis will finish 2014 with a .308 wOBA and 0.7 WAR, but never sees any hope for him in that system's five year projection.
Nick Markakis enters his 30th year season in 2014. While decline is the norm from here on in, that decline has already happened on a grand scale. But he is still young enough to turn it around. But can he or will he? The numbers do not make it seem likely. He hits more ground balls than at any time in his career, his home run to fly ball ratio has taken a dive and only his line drive rates give any kind of hope. Has this once fearsome hitter turned into a slap hitter?
The Orioles have not made a splash this off-season except in a negative light with the Balfour fiasco. Once again, they seem to be playing things close to the vest (cliche alert!). For the Orioles to have any kind of chance in the AL East, they will need Nick Markakis to return to some of his former glory, especially for the $15 million they will be paying him. Whether Markakis has that kind of player left in him remains to be seen. All the numbers show us is a sharp and sad decline from what was once a promising career.