29 May 2014

Nick Markakis' Secret Platoon Issue


Looking on the surface of the 2014 season, it appears that Nick Markakis is hitting fairly well.  The perception of his season seemed to be so high, that a couple of weeks ago, Orioles General Manager Dan Duquette was starting to be asked whether or not he planned to pick up Markakis’ team option, which would pay the long time Baltimore right-fielder $17.5 million in 2015 (there is a buyout of $2 million).  Maybe it was his 18-game hitting streak that put next year on everyone’s radar, or maybe it was the fact that Markakis was hitting .300 and getting on base while primarily batting leadoff.

When the questions about the team option for Markakis were being asked, we hear at the Depot were a little confused as to why.  Markakis is currently batting .297/.346/.392, which is good for .327 wOBA and a 103 wRC+, which essentially makes him a league average hitter.  A league average hitter is a valuable commodity, but it isn’t necessary to pay $17.5 million to get one ($15.5 million if you include the buy-out).  Sure, when comparing Markakis’ line so far in 2014 to what he produced last year, he looks like an All-Star.  But one must take into consideration that Markakis was basically replacement level in 2013.  Jon may have put it best when he sent out the following tweet.

What does this have to do with a platoon issue with Markakis?  Similar to his deceivingly “productive” numbers at the plate this year, his platoon issues are not immediately seen.  If you compare the career numbers Markakis has against right-handed pitching to left-handed pitching, on the surface it doesn’t look he is a serious platoon candidate.

Nick Markakis Career Splits
As you may have guessed, the problem isn’t with the average or the on-base percentage necessarily, but with the power.  We’ve discussed the Nick Markakis power outage here on this site quite a bit (so I can understand if you’re tired of hearing about it), but his lack of power when facing left handed pitching this year helps illustrate the argument that Nick Markakis probably shouldn’t be an everyday player for a contending team such as the Orioles.  Below you’ll find a figure that shows his triple slash line versus left-handed pitchers throughout his career.


At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much of a trend, but looking at the raw data (which includes a couple of extra statistics versus left-handed pitching not included in the graph), we start to see that the uptick in slugging percentage during the 2010 and 2012 seasons may have been artificially inflated.

Nick Markakis vs LHP 
Looking at the table, it’s clear to see that the success Markakis enjoyed against left-handers in 2010 was buoyed by his .419 BABIP, while his slugging percentage was pushed over .500 in large part to a 16.1% HR/FB rate in 2012 (also shortened due to injury). As a point of reference, over his career, Markakis has a .326 BABIP and a 6.2% HR/FB rate against left-handed pitching.  Substituting that .326 BABIP line in 2010 (and assuming he only loses singles) brings down his 2010 slugging percentage to .414.  Similarly, if we use his career HR/FB rate versus LHP in 2012 (which may be generous considering his HR/FB% versus LHP since the end of the 2008 season), his slugging percentage would also drop to .414.

Since the beginning of the 2013 season, Markakis has accumulated 11 extra base hits (10 doubles and 1 home run) in 308 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. And as the figure below shows, a pitch from a left-hander literally has to be located in the middle of the strike zone for Markakis to hit it with any sort of authority.


If the Orioles have dreams about being serious playoff contenders, there are some things the team needs to do.  Obviously the biggest thing deals with improving the pitching staff (which was actually talked about quite a bit yesterday), but another thing is letting go of the idea that Nick Markakis is an everyday right fielder.  Don’t get me wrong, he is a useful player, but he’s the equivalent of Ben Revere (without the speed) when he faces left-handed pitching.  Yesterday, Jon suggested on twitter that Matt Kemp was an interesting trade option.  A few days earlier I mentioned Alex Rios.  Trade season is just around the corner and those are just two of what will likely be many options that the team will (hopefully) look into.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Decent points made, however he is now a leadoff hitter and power isn't his priority. There is a bigger issue and that is the LF position. David Lough should be cut, honestly. Who cares he is a LF bat. If I'm working with just what we currently have, I'd rather platoon Young and Pearce in LF.

Jon Shepherd said...

Power may not be a priority, but it still impacts a game and it certainly impacts what one is willing to spend next year.

Nate Delong said...

Pearce and Young should not platoon in LF. Both are having fluky good seasons against RHP, but multiple years of data say they are easily overmatched unless facing LHP. They're both terribke fielders out there as well. However, either one of them would be an ok choice for the weak side of a RF platoon with Markakis.

I disagree with cutting Lough. He has value as a 4th or 5th OF, but was miscast as starter at the beginning of the season

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I have thought for a while that Markakis should get more days off, but as long as he's relatively healthy, he plays every day, period. A trade for someone who can hit left-handed pitching would make some sense (depending on cost), though the O's could play Pearce more often, putting him in left or right field (depending on where Cruz is). If they were to acquire someone, though, Lough or Young would have to go.

Anonymous said...

If Nick Markakis plays 9 more years at the same pace as his first nine years he'll have 3,000 hits. Not exactly an average player, and the obsession with home runs needs to end.

Jon Shepherd said...

Anon - doubles would be nice, too. Baseball is about getting on base and being able to produce runs. Singles hitting has its worth, but it is not exactly the best thing to depend on. Also, I think a 3,000 hit fetish does not really say much about his value...especially if he is require to not age in order to accomplish a somewhat arbitrary feat.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I think expecting Markakis to play nine more years, let alone nine more years of similar production, is more than a long shot. And hoping that Markakis would have been better doesn't mean he hasn't been appreciated.

Michael Wallace said...

If Markakis plays 9 more years and stays at his current production, it would be a miracle.

Matt Day said...

Your points all make sense. I, however, think there is a benefit to having a guy who can actually work the count and get on base. In terms of plate discipline, the only thing the birds have had since 2006 other than Markakis is Roberts. I don't have time to quote all stats but Kakes leads the birds in K/BB rate almost every year. A fair comparison for Markakis would be right fielders average value($)per year for the OBP and OPS he provides. His contact was $11 mil. A year. That probably puts him smack down in the middle of what market value is for his plate production in the free agent market. Blame the contact value (for which $17.5 mil is too high for his production) on the GM and contact structure.

Matt Day said...

Doesn't the fact that few do it still make it incredible?, as much as you seem to want to belittle it? His career oWAR is 22.5 through full seasons and at 2.85 per year. Look at ccomparables (in terms of offense)like Hunter Pence and see the deal he signed. Everyone knows Markakis is not worth $15 mil let alone $17.5, but people should quit attacking him because the front offense thought he would developer into a power hitter.

Matt Day said...

Well said.

Anonymous said...

you guys sound like you never played a day in life, go outside and play some or at least softball cause your probably can not play the real thing. Put away your advanced stats and openly embraced hatred for Markakis yes he is a disappoint and not worth 15 million a year. the guy is a complete professional hitter and fielder; stick your "fielding" stats that hold no water in any argument with real talent observers and get a life go hit a softball and run around

Brad said...

Anonymous said "you guys sound like you never played a day in life, go outside and play some or at least softball cause your probably can not play the real thing."

I could barely write a more typical sentence if I were impersonating a logic-hating stats-hating change-hater. I'm surprised it didn't include a reference to these posts being written by people located in their individual mother's basement.

Everything Jon and Nate conveyed is logical, thoughtful, and frankly pretty obvious given how well it was presented. I have a very low opinion of most of society and message board comments like the ones from Anonymous, whoever he/she/they may be, serve to further my cynicism and misanthropy. I find the less a person actually knows the more they think they know and are very confident expressing it while deriding others who's opinion differs.

Jon Shepherd said...

Anon - I played ball rather competitively until my shoulder went out on me when I was 17. I also wound up in a rather competitive softball league in my 20s and won a couple championships pitching and playing left center. All of that certainly helps with situational awareness, but I do not think it matters all that much because there are several ways toward understanding baseball beyond being relatively good at playing it. Similarly, just because someone is an excellent farmer does not mean that they have much skill at land management. Different skill sets are being used.

Jon Shepherd said...

Matt - I don't mean to belittle 3,000 hits as an accomplishment. I mean to belittle it as having any importance here. We can cite a list thousands of players long who were on pace for some milestones at age 30 who never wound up anywhere near it. With that in mind, it is not a very useful thing to bring up. What it does is create a false context that brings a halo to the player.

Matt Day said...

Jon, you're correct. Your point was the players power. So it is not necessarily a valid counter-argument when it was brought up. I was simply making the point that when acheived I differ from you and feel it should celebrated. We're a long way off though.

On the other topic brought up by posters here, hits and walks do play into a persons value though. That's why OPS is still and oft-quoted stat and if I'm not mistaken, at least indirectly influences WAR and o WAR. So there is value for Markakis there. So the question is, what does the market say that's worth. Namely, a player's AAV vs. That of comparable players. I believe I tried to make that point in my other post, that while most logical people agree that 17.5 mil is too much for a year of Markakis (myself included), calling him a bust is not productive either.

Leadership, age and production wise I'd decline this players option and shoot for a 4 year 46 mil deal (essentially 12 mil a year). That'd get you deep into discussion with his agent as a starting point.

Of course it all depends on the rest of this year too.

Jon Shepherd said...

OPS is an old school stat. WAR is influenced by things like runs created or wOBA

Matt Perez said...

It's possible to believe that Markakis has had a good career, been very valuable to the Orioles organization, still has value to the club but would serve the team best at this point playing only against righties.

As long as we have Pearce and Young on the roster then we may as well use them.

Matt Day said...

wOBA, that weighs obp 1.8 times more than slugging does it not? Hence shifting focus away from power and increasing the value of ones ability to hit singles or walk. That was indeed my point.

I misspoke by seeming to suggest (I just reread my comment) that WAR uses OPS. I meant that walks and hits(namely singles) are still a part of WAR. And WAR should ultimately indicate a person statisical value at least.

Jon Shepherd said...

1.8x is an approximate. wOBA actually looks at single events.

I would not call it shifting focus away from power, but putting everything on the same scale.

Nate Delong said...

Appreciate everyone's comments and am sorry that I missed the discussion over the weekend.

Just want to make one final point on Markakis. He's put together a nice career with the Orioles. If you want to discuss his career fWAR (or bWAR), you have to consider that his 2007 and 2008 seasons contributed nearly half his career WAR. He's not the same player he was then, and he shouldn't be expected to be that player anymore. The AL East looks to be tight all year, and any tactic that provides an advantage could make the difference between a trip to the playoffs and a trip to the golf course. I thought a RH platoon partner for Markakis is something that could make a difference.

I should have emphasized it slightly more in the article, but using Pearce or Young (preferably Pearce) as that RH platoon partner improves the offense without making any roster moves.

Anonymous said...

THIS SEASON vs LEFTIES:

Markakis: .324, 15% Strikeouts
Pearce: .211, 22% Strikeouts
Young: .226, 17% Strikeouts

Comparing the difference in extra base hits per AB isn't staggeringly different either. Markakis is an incredibly consistent hitter who has great bat control and constantly comes up with hits when we need them. He had a below average (although not horrible by any stretch) season last year, likely due to a lingering injury. He's on pace for a .308 average, 12 HR's, 33 2B's, and 84 SO's. That may not be a premier player's numbers, but they're certainly all-star caliber. I've never understood why so many people in this city think Markakis is not as good of a player as he actually is. Maybe he's not worth 17.5 MM, but to suggest platooning him this season is stupid...I'm sorry.

Jon Shepherd said...

If I was to assess a player, I am not sure I would use those numbers in that way. I mean, let us just think about all star quality and ignore all of the advanced metrics that would better utilize his numbers as a whole. Batting average of .308 would have been 6th best among outfielders last year. That is very good. 12 home runs would be 32nd best and several folks above him did not play full seasons, so that is a rather unexceptional home run rate. Doubles would put him as 13th overall, so his secondary power is not greatly making up for his lack of home run power. Finally, strikeouts...I am not sure how you are using that as a stand alone statistic in terms of value. Norichiki Aoki struck out last year at a rate half of that.

Anyway, no one is saying Markakis is a bad player, but that he does some things not so well and perhaps there are better ways to put him in a place to succeed.