Nick Markakis seems to get a pass from many fans despite his underwhelming performance this season, yet someone like Matt Wieters is routinely derided as being overrated and not worth a future lucrative contract extension (which he may not be, depending how lucrative we're talking about). Maybe it's because Markakis had somewhat of a bounce-back season in 2012, while Wieters's numbers have been trending down since 2011. Maybe it's because Markakis's peak season in 2008 is better than any of Wieters's seasons so far, though Markakis has not come close to replicating that fantastic batting line. Or maybe it's something as simple as looking at Markakis's batting average, which is usually around .300, while Wieters has a career average of .256.
Wieters is not having a good season offensively (.299 wOBA), and he's supposed to be better than this. But Markakis (.318 wOBA) hasn't been much better. And unlike Markakis, Wieters has considerably more defensive value, plus Wieters (making $5.5 million) isn't earning $15 million this season and next.
But this post isn't about Markakis vs. Wieters, and the Orioles could really use more offensive punch from both. This post is about Markakis and how he may be having the worst offensive season of his eight-year career. His worst full offensive season came in 2011, when he had a wOBA of .333. He was better last season (.359 wOBA), but that success hasn't carried over. I discussed Markakis's power decline in May, though thankfully his numbers have improved since then -- but not by much. One big change for Markakis this season is that he's putting the ball in play an awful lot. That will make Tom Verducci happy, but it's not working.
Markakis's current walk (7.0%) and strikeout (9.8%) rates would both be the lowest of his career. He's also smashing the ball into the ground a ton -- nearly 49% of the time (the most since his rookie season (51.2%)). As you'd expect, that means he's hitting fewer fly balls (28.1%, which would be a career low). So he's accumulating a bunch of singles (82) but not many extra-base hits (18 doubles, 8 homers). If Markakis were a faster runner or walking more in line with his career walk rate (9.4%), maybe he'd be able to perform better despite a lack of fly balls. But he's not that quick, and he's not drawing enough walks.
Markakis normally has fantastic plate discipline, but those numbers have also not been as good this year. He's chasing 29.2% of pitches outside the strikezone (career 25.5%) and overall he's swinging 43.6% of the time (career 41.6%). He's still making pretty good contact overall (89.2%), which sort of explains the lower strikeout rate -- he's making contact on pitches not in the strikezone, but he's not doing much with them.
Markakis, who has a career .332 wOBA against left-handed pitching, has also struggled against southpaws this year. In 143 plate appearances, he has just a .268 wOBA and has struck out nearly 17% of the time. He's never struggled that mightily against lefties; in fact, his next worst season came in 2011, when he had a .288 wOBA in 212 plate appearances. Maybe it's just a fluke and he will perform better against lefties soon -- after all, neither sample is all that substantial. But lefties are routinely retiring Markakis, which matters a bit more because he plays in nearly every game.
Honestly, there isn't much the Orioles can really do about Markakis until after next season, when he has a $2 million buyout for 2015. Or, I guess, they could pay him his full $17.5 million club option, though he'd have to turn things around in a hurry for that to make any kind of sense. I've been in favor of them giving him more days off, or at least more at-bats at DH, but there's not anyone on the roster who is good enough to replace him in the lineup. For the time being, the O's just have to hope Markakis simply starts playing better.