The rapid but steady decline of Nick Markakis is not a new story. Last week Daniel Moroz wrote an excellent piece and offered an ominous graph of the possible trajectory of Markakis’ career. Recent pieces at Rotographs offer half-empty and half-full pints of Markakis. This week in By the Numbers we’ll take a graphical glance at three aspects of Nick’s game (hitting, fielding and base-running) over his career. Each aspect comes with an advanced metric that quantifies how many runs above an average player Nick is worth. The By the Numbers Enthusiast will want to check the links for an indepth discussion of the metric being employed. Note: We are not quite computing WAR here. WAR employs these three metrics along with two others to compute replacement value for a particular position.
The graph shows Nick’s value, in terms of runs above average, since the 2006 season. Runs above average are a cumulative statistic (like RBIs or stolen bases), thus each bar on the graph represents the end of the season total. As the graph shows, after an MVP-caliber season in 2008, Markakis’ performance began to slide precipitously and this season it appears to have hit rock bottom. Its important to make note of the last two stacked bars labeled 2011-PRO and 2011-EXP. Since we are only 63 games into the 2011 season, it would be unfair to compare Nick’s statistics for this year against his previous year end totals. Instead I have offered two different projections for the final outlook of Nick’s 2011 season.
The first, 2011-PRO, pro-rates Nick’s performance thus far for another 96 games, resulting in Nick playing 159 games this season. This projection is particularly dreary. Nick has been dreadful at the plate this year and pro-rating his hitting statistics only makes this outlook worse. The positive aspects of Nick’s game in 2011 have been his defense and his base-running. Both are above average and pro-rating them for the season would result in some of the best numbers in his career.
However, 2011-PRO is probably not the best predictor of Nick’s final 2011 numbers. Markakis has a reasonably long track record of above average offensive performance and it is extremely likely that he will significantly improve at the plate throughout the remainder of the season. 2011-EXP reflects this point of view. The 2011-EXP statistics are gathered by taking that statistics Nick has already accumulated and adding them to the ZiPS Rest of the Season projection for Markakis and then pro-rating them for 96 games. Again the result is a projection for Nick playing 159 games this season. While 2011-EXP offers a more encouraging outcome than 2011-PRO, it still isn’t good. Even given an expected rebound at the plate Markakis would only offer the Orioles ~2 runs above an average player and most of his value would come from his fielding and base-running.
There is no denying that Markakis’ career appears in rapid decline. He seems devoid of power, and no longer is capable of walking at an extremely high rate. Instead of being an MVP-caliber player, which he was in 2008, he appears to be a league average outfielder in 2011. Unfortunately this means he is a league average outfield who is signed to an expensive contract (~$43M) for the next three years. In order to be worth his contract Markakis needs to put up three seasons close to this 2007 levels (valued at ~$18M) or at the very least ensure that 2011 does not happen again (2011-EXP would be worth ~$8M, 2011-PRO would be worth ~$3M).