17 July 2015

Don't Waver: The Orioles Made The Right Move With Markakis

Not counting J.J. Hardy's struggles at the plate this season, the most obvious spot to blame for the Orioles' scattered offensive issues is corner outfield. The Orioles have been shuffling between Alejandro De Aza, Steve Pearce, Travis Snider, Delmon Young, David Lough, Nolan Reimold, Chris Parmelee, and now Chris Davis. De Aza (traded) and Young (designated for assignment) are gone, but the rest remain. It seems unlikely that the Orioles will be able to carry this many outfielders for the rest of the season, and it's also probable that they'll continue to pursue trade options.

That brings us to Wednesday's Baltimore Sun column by Dan Connolly. In it, Connolly remarks on the team's non-Adam Jones outfield issues, and he also includes intriguing quotes from Buck Showalter and Jones on dealing with the revolving door of outfielders. Read the article and see what you think.

Let's get this out of the way first, because not much has changed on the Nick Markakis/Nelson Cruz front. It's common for writers and fans alike to look back and say, hey, the Orioles should have brought back Markakis and Cruz (they won the American League East last year! etc.). Both topics have been covered at Camden Depot multiple times, the most recent being on Cruz. In his column, Connolly writes, "Besides having to replace their leadership and potential offensive production, the Orioles have missed a duo that started a combined 217 games in the corner-outfield spots last year. . . . Things, it now can be said, have not worked out as planned."

Obviously the Orioles figured most, if not all, of their corner outfielders would have performed better offensively. And it's hard to look at how Cruz hit in the first half and wonder how that would have helped this year's Orioles.

Still, there's this:

2014: 4.35 runs per game (5th in AL)
2015: 4.40 runs per game (4th)

Anyway, let's focus on Markakis. Do you think the Orioles have missed Markakis's leadership or clubhouse chemistry factor? Perhaps you're right. It's also impossible to prove, just like saying the lack of Jonathan Schoop's "easy smile and playful fun nature" in any way contributed to the O's struggles earlier in the season. The "missing leadership" rationale is frequently applied to fit a narrative when nothing otherwise will.

Instead, when focusing on tangible evidence of Markakis's play in recent years and the first portion of this season, it's more of the same. As Connolly notes, the Orioles were concerned about Markakis requiring offseason neck surgery. And maybe his recovery from that injury has played a part in his power outage.
Markakis could need more time to fully recover. Watching him in his prime was a joy, and it would be wonderful if he returned to form. But his dwindling power has been a concern for a few years now. According to data from Baseball Heat Maps, here are Markakis's average fly ball distances since 2012:

2012: 284 feet
2013: 271
2014: 268
2015: 260

Now let's check out some batted ball data from FanGraphs. Markakis is not hitting the ball as hard...

2012: 32.6 Hard%
2013: 28.8
2014: 27.3
2015: 27.1

... or pulling it:

2012: 34.2 Pull%
2013: 32.9
2014: 31.4
2015: 29.9

And that's led to an increase in him hitting the ball on the ground:

2012: 41.8 GB%
2013: 46.6
2014: 45.9
2015: 51.4

If Markakis were a faster runner and able to leg out more infield hits, that might be less of an issue. But speed is not part of his game. It's probably a bit fluky that he doesn't have at least one home run, especially since he's hit 20 doubles. Regardless, his .353 slugging percentage would be the worst of his career.

Also, his .381 on-base percentage is very good, and it would be his best mark since 2008. But he's been fortunate on balls in play (.345 BABIP; .317 career mark), and it's unlikely he'll be able to carry on with a walk percentage near 12% (career around 9%), especially since he's seeing the highest percentage of pitches in the strike zone (for him) since 2010 (51.2%). He's not able to do as much damage with one swing, and pitchers are starting to go after him more.

Markakis has a wRC+ of 108, and that would have helped the Orioles somewhat. It's higher than Snider (94), Pearce (89), De Aza (70), and Lough (70). Parmelee and Reimold have hit better, though in much smaller samples. But both UZR and DRS have the O's group of right fielders better defensively than Braves' right fielders (nearly all defensive innings belonging to Markakis):

Orioles RF: +0.6 UZR, +4 DRS
Braves RF: -0.1 UZR, -2 DRS

And remember, the Braves still owe Markakis $31.5 million over the next three seasons.

This team has flaws, but it's still in the playoff race. And yes, the corner outfield plan hasn't worked out so far. The Chris Davis in right field experiment is in full swing, and if he somehow manages to be a mediocre defender, it could work. But thanks to improvements from other players (Manny Machado and Jimmy Paredes, in particular), the O's offense has been just fine (frustrating at times, but fine). Meanwhile, the team's offseason indecision on the starting rotation has probably hurt the team more (not opening a spot for Kevin Gausman) than not bringing Markakis back. But sometimes it's hard to let go.


Anonymous said...

Totally disagree with this article. The Orioles made a huge mistake with Markakis and DD and this site just cannot own up to it. It would be kinda nice to have someone on base when Machado hits HR's and not trying to make him into the leadoff hitter that he is not. We have probably already wasted close to one years salary with all the revolving door RF's we have had.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

The problem with the Orioles has nothing to do with where Manny Machado bats in the order. Ideally he'd probably bat second, but it's extremely valuable to have one of your best hitters batting first. Nick Markakis is basically a league average offensive right fielder, and he's only getting worse. I don't know why people keep propping him up to be more than that.

Anonymous said...

A league average offensive right fielder who can hit righties and lefties and play respectable defense is exactly what the Orioles need right now. Markakis was 1-4 2B 1 RBI tonight BTW. They really need a reliable #1 starter even more.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Completely disagree. And you don't hand those types of players four years and over $40 million.

And I have no clue why what he did last night is relevant at all.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I included in the post that O's right fielders have been better, and at the very least close, defensively to what Markakis offers. Also, here's this:

Orioles RF: .763 OPS (370 PA)
Markakis: .728 OPS (380 PA)

Anonymous said...

There is something to be said for leadership and consistency when it comes to Markakis. Watching a guy go out and get the job done day in and day out with no excuses isn't the same as knowing that you can cobble together comparable production from part-timers.

Even Adam Jones admitted that he took cues from Markakis about how to play the same everyday regardless of standings and slumps. It's not as simple as slapping a stat and a dollar figure on a player.

$$$ aside, the chemistry is just not there with this group of O's and there has been a great deal of inconsistency in the team's play this year. The extra roster spots dedicated to fringe outfielders has also limited roster flexibility and bullpen depth.

WhatTheBuck said...

I have to agree with the chemistry point.

To date, O's have lost 11 of their last 14 games and show no signs of getting off the mat.

This team is way less than the sum of its parts.

Showalter looks lost.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

So the O's all of a sudden have bad team chemistry because they've lost a lot of games recently? Did they have great team chemistry when they went above .500 and seemed to have turned things around a couple weeks ago?

I mostly said what I had to say about chemistry above. It's far from that simple. But I don't think you're giving players enough credit about needing to see a leader and a consistent performer. The Orioles have other, better players that fit both of those categories. And it's not like this team has a bunch of young players who need guidance. This is a team mostly made up of veteran players.

Of course Jones didn't want Markakis to leave. I also don't think that matters much. You don't want players to make personnel decisions.

There's something to be said for the difficulty of being able to play match-ups and not have an everyday player in both corner outfield spots. More than anything, the O's could use another very good player to lighten the load of Jones and Machado. Markakis is no longer that type of player.

Anonymous said...

The O's don't miss Markakis at all. Basically, the O's win when they hit homeruns and have good starting pitching. As stated the article, they have averaged more runs per game this year than last. This year Norris has been awful and is the main reason for the O's not being about 5 games above 0.500 at this point in the season.

Anonymous said...

Well actually it is a big deal where Machado bats in the lineup. He is not a leadoff hitter and its a waste to have him there instead of a position where he can drive in runs. This site will never admit that the Orioles missed the boat with Markakis which is fine but why keep bringing him up. It makes the site look like they only drink hater-aide/

Matt Kremnitzer said...

It's not a waste at all to have him bat leadoff. It's one of the spots where you want your best hitters, and with the power he's been showcasing he'll eventually move down in the order next year or beyond anyway. I'm not sure why so many are so concerned with it instead of appreciating how great he has been.

I don't care if I look like a Markakis hater because it has nothing to do with that and nothing I've said is unfair. He was one of my favorite players before he left, but I tire of the over-the-top things said about his absence on this team. Why would I admit they "missed the boat" with Markakis when it's inaccurate?

Anonymous said...

I disagree to some extend with this article. While I agree signing him to a 4 year deal would have been a mistake, the Orioles had a 1 year option on Markakis for 17.5 million. While Markakis may be nowhere near a 17.5 million dollar player, I thought it made sense to keep him around with all of the other Orioles potential 2015 free agents to make one last run at it. The option contained a 2 million buyout, so it was essentially 15.5 million for one year of Markakis. He might not be what he used to be but he is still a reliable MLB starting outfielder and he would have been able to stabilize the leadoff spot and right field. Given his on base percentage having a top 3 in the order that looks like this would have really helped the Orioles offense.

rf Markakis
3b Machado
cf Jones

Markakis is currently 9th in the National League with a .374 OBP. Who cares about his power as a leadoff man with that kind of on base skills. He would have let Machado hit 2nd or somewhere else instead of leadoff where he could be more of an asset. While 17.5 million may have been a bit high personally I think there is no such thing as a bad one year contract. The Orioles could have come up with this much of this money by staying away from some of the outfield retreads they signed this winter (De Aza-5 million) (Young-2.25).

The Orioles then would have had a chance to evaluate him after his surgery and determine if they wanted to commit to him after 2015 along with their other free agents, Davis, Wieters, etc. Given his lack of power they might have been able to negotiate more favorable terms then 4 years 44 million. They also could have had him for one more season before eventually moving into some sort of a re-building phase in 2016.

Mike said...

In 2014 Markakis was 13th in all of MLB in total base hits out of over 800 players. Not too bad I might add. This year so far he is 12th. Regardless of power he is providing his team an opportunity to score runs. Nick's steady behind the scenes veteran leadership is lacking right now. His defense is nearly flawless but quiet manner is not in your face like the more popular player but he is without question elite.

Mike said...

Correcting...his veteran leadership is lacking in Baltimore right now.

Anonymous said...

Matt, not agree with the Markakis lovers (disclaimer: I'm an Orioles and Braves fan) but I do wonder what a 0.389 OBA would look like at the top of the Orioles lineup with Machado hitting second. How many solo shots would be 2-run homers? Although I have to admit that the Machado/Parades 1-2 slotting is vastly better than the Markakis/Machado slotting. I think the one thing everyone could agree on here is that if Parades could play either outfield slot credibly then this whole discussion would be moot. If they WOULD put Paredes in the field and let Wieters DH when he's not catching, this offense would be extraordinary.

Anonymous said...

I do agree that not overpaying for Markakis makes sense; I think the real issue is really the inability to replace the offensive production on the *team* level (as opposed to just RF). Consider the following:

Orioles RF: 0.760 OPS (15th in the MLB). This includes Young in 40 games, Snider in 19 games, Davis in 16 games, De Aza in 13 games, and Parmelee / Reimold / Pearce / Lough in the remaining 23 games (<10 for each player).

Orioles LF: 0.628 OPS (27th in the MLB). This includes Lough in 37 games, Snider in 32 games, De Aza in 19 games, Pearce in 17 games, Reimold in 15 games, and Young / Paredes in the remaining 3 games.

If Markakis were the Orioles starter in RF, the Orioles' RF production in reality would have occurred via the LF position... and Markakis' 0.726 OPS, if counted under the LF category, would have been good for 14th in the MLB.

To me, the implication is obvious: Not having a player who's equivalent to (or better than) Markakis was the direct cause of the Orioles' having an offensive production worse than shortstops and catchers out of left field.

Anonymous said...

"He hits better than what the O's have in RF!"

"That's not really true. He's actually a slap hitting middle infielder playing a position where you need some power. He also would have been the Orioles highest paid player in 2015 by like $4mm."

"But..but his leadership though! The Orioles never had horrible losing streaks when he was around (after 2011... mostly)! Jimmy Paredes would look into his steely, Greek gaze and will himself not to have stretches where he hits .098. Bud Norris would watch him effortlessly slap a soft grounder between short and third like a true professional and remember how to throw strikes too! And he could hypothetically have been on base every time Machado has hit a HR this year. That's like 20 more runs!"

I'm glad you people aren't in charge.

Berdj J. Rassam said...

All things considered, the Orioles are still poised for a playoff spot.

Anonymous said...

I really liked Markakis as a person and a player when he was with the Orioles. He was one of the few players that I could root for during the "dark times".

That being said, there is NO WAY that Markakis comes close to justifying that ridiculous contract he signed with the Braves. The Braves actually did us a favor because apparently there was a 3 year offer for far too much money that was on the table from the Orioles.

I do wish that the Orioles had done more to replace him in the off-season, but their farm system is weak and there wasn't much available on the free-agent market. I believe that they'll acquire an outfielder at the trade deadline, though. Jay Bruce? Ben Zobrist? We'll see.

Anonymous said...

The comment section is awesome. I too miss Nick Markakis from a decade ago.