22 October 2013

Making the Orioles a Champion in 2014: Right Field

Photo via Keith Allison
This post is part of the Making the Orioles a Champion in 2014 Series.  Below you will find links to the other articles.  We will do our best to make sure the links go live with each new update.
C | 1B | 2B (12) | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RFDH | Bench | SP (1, 2) | RHRP | LHRP | Conclusion

Looking Back

The struggles of Nick Markakis have been well documented -- particularly on this site. To rehash: He was essentially a replacement level player (-0.1 fWAR) in 2013. It was the first time Markakis finished with an fWAR below 1.5, which he posted in 104 games during an injury-riddled 2012 season. He established career lows across the board offensively: he had a slash line of .271/.329/.356; had little power (.085 ISO); and tied for the lowest walk rate of his career (7.9 BB%). He also ended up with the lowest HR/FB rate of his career (5.7%) and had an infield fly ball percentage of nearly 15% (previous career high of 9.7%).

2006 22 BAL 147 542 25 2 16 43 72 .291 .351 .448 .799
2007 23 BAL 161 710 43 3 23 61 112 .300 .362 .485 .848
2008 24 BAL 157 697 48 1 20 99 113 .306 .406 .491 .897
2009 25 BAL 161 711 45 2 18 56 98 .293 .347 .453 .801
2010 26 BAL 160 709 45 3 12 73 93 .297 .370 .436 .805
2011 27 BAL 160 716 31 1 15 62 75 .284 .351 .406 .756
2012 28 BAL 104 471 28 3 13 42 51 .298 .363 .471 .834
2013 29 BAL 160 700 24 0 10 55 76 .271 .329 .356 .685
8 Yrs 1210 5256 289 15 127 491 690 .292 .360 .441 .801
162 Game Avg. 162 704 39 2 17 66 92 .292 .360 .441 .801
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/22/2013.

Markakis was not very good defensively either. His arm is still OK, but it is not the weapon it once was. (Even Jose Molina, arguably the slowest runner in baseball, went from second to third on him in September (watch here around the 22-second mark)). Markakis handles everything to him or near him -- he didn't make a single error in 2013 -- but his range has been declining for years. FanGraphs had him at 11.5 range runs below average, and both FanGraphs' (-6.5 UZR) and Baseball Reference's (-7 per Baseball Info Solutions' defensive runs saved above average metric) advanced defensive numbers rated him poorly.

In the baserunning department, Markakis was about average (0.4 baserunning runs above average). He also stole one base and was caught twice.

That Markakis had this type of season is disappointing enough. And yet, he did all of this in his age 29 season (he turns 30 in November) in the fifth year of a six-year, $66.1 million contract. He made $15 million in 2013, and he will be the team's highest paid player yet again in 2014. He's due $15 million for 2014 and has a $17.5 million club option for 2015 (with a $2 million buyout). So the O's owe Markakis at least $17 million more in his Orioles career. It's unlikely the O's would exercise that 2015 option, even if Markakis rebounds with a monster season.

Moving Forward
Markakis is going to be the team's everyday right fielder in 2014. Part of that is because of the money he's still due, and another part is that the Orioles don't have any outfield prospects of note who are close to the majors. The Orioles still consider themselves contenders -- as they should with this current nucleus -- but Markakis is no longer a 160-game-playing star right fielder. His numbers have been in decline for a couple seasons now, and if he didn't have a sort of bounce-back 2012 in a little over a half a season, this would probably be a bigger concern.

Markakis peaked offensively in 2008. He hasn't come close to putting up those numbers again, though. Here are his single season wOBA numbers since 2006:

via FanGraphs
2013 was the first year that Markakis's numbers dipped below MLB average, but again, they have been trending down for a while. He's also never been this reliant on his on-base skills.

Here are his isolated power numbers from 2006 to 2013:

via FanGraphs

His power outage is troubling. He went from June 24 to August 25 without hitting a home run. And from July 19 to August 25, he didn't have a single extra-base hit. Players go through slumps, and maybe Markakis isn't quite as bad as he was this past season. But he's not anywhere close to the 2008 version of himself, and that 2012 uptick seems somewhat fluky as well (11.1% HR/FB rate, his highest since 2008). Either that, or his wrist and thumb injuries from 2012 are still major issues.

Free Agent Options

In my post on the team's left field situation, I mentioned some big-name free agents like Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz. There's very little chance of the O's signing one of those guys, and the same goes for one of those high-priced outfielders to play right field. If the O's sign anyone to play right field (note: extremely improbable), it would probably be a right-handed corner outfielder who hits righties well (someone like Rajai Davis). Even then, that player wouldn't supplant Markakis.

My guess is that Dan Duquette targets a couple of fringe outfielders and signs them for cheap or to minor league deals (maybe Casper Wells or someone of his ilk).

What to Do in 2014

Markakis isn't going anywhere, and he'll be in right field for just about every game in 2014 (barring injury). That could/should change beyond 2014, but for now, that's the way it is. I believe the O's should at least bring in one right-handed outfield option to bat against lefties and give Markakis more days off.

Signing someone like Davis makes sense (especially if Nate McLouth is brought back as well). McLouth and Davis could both see time in left, and then Davis could play some right field as well. It's not a perfect solution, but if the O's aren't going to spend the type of money to improve the outfield, that's what they'll have to try. And considering they already spent a bunch of cash on Markakis, the guy they thought they wouldn't have to worry about, they may be even more reluctant to shell out more money right now.

So, in 2014, fans should basically hope that Markakis turns things around. The front office's plan very well may be the exact same thing.


Jeremy said...

Great evaluation...it seems Markakis is the elephant in the room when it comes to the O's chances in '14. So much attention has been given to improving our 2B and DH production, even what to do with LF...but RF is really the biggest deficiency and the one the team is most helpless to address. If Markakis can even just return to the '09-'11 level it will make a substantial difference.

Chicago Curmudgeon said...

All we can do is hope that the contract-year effect makes him play better. While the Orioles will have to make a serious move in the free agent market at some point, that point is probably for the 2015 season, not the 2015 season.

Liam said...

Agreed that the only option for Markakis is to let him play out this year and hope he turns it around.

Hypothetically, though, what if we traded him, eating half his contract and replacing him with a 2-3 win player for 5-7 mil a year? I think Markakis is a decent bet to produce at least 2 wins next year, but I'd be interested to see what DD could pull together for that amount of money.

Anonymous said...

Bloomberg just named the Orioles the 7th most valuable franchise in MLB. Based on this information, its getting a little frustrating hearing about how the Orioles can't be players for impact free agents. Wheres the money going? The Orioles payroll has been relatively unchanged for 10 years. This team used to be able to land former MVPs in free agency and now can't even make a play at Nelson Cruz?

Jon Shepherd said...

If I heard correctly Bloomberg has the Orioles value being tied up primarily with their stake in MASN which is likely not a very dependablecommodity based on how upset the nationals are. Also the inclusion of MASN is questionable because it is not technically part of the Orioles and has different ownership than the group that owns the Orioles. Franchise validation is hard and both Bloomberg and Forbes have issues with their methodology. Regardless the component that likely includes available money to a spend is not great in either scenario because value is tied up in product as opposed to money coming in. In other words you can be the richest man in the world yet have no money.

Unknown said...

What about potentially restructuring his contract? I, personally, still have faith in him.

Jon Shepherd said...

Contract restructuring is pretty rare when contracts are garunteed. My god, I cannot spell that word.

Anonymous said...

Nick's entitled to a mulligan for the 2013 season. It very well could be that his offensive woes were a carryover from being hit by the Sabathia fastball near the end of '12.

I disagree with him being described as below average as a right fielder. That's ridiculous. He's a Gold Glove finalist and deserves to be one. Okay, his range may have been down, but he had a perfect fielding percentage, threw well, and was excellent playing balls off the wall.

Here's a prediction: 2014 will be a bounce back season for Nick Markakis.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Gold gloves and errors committed are not the best indicators of defensive ability.

Jon Shepherd said...

It will be interesting to see how Gold Gloves change with the inclusion of useful defensive metrics. They finally acknowledged how imprecise the whole thing was. It was always amusing to be how Silver Slugger awards seemed to contribute to the final tallies in a way that suggested that the Gold Glove was a general appreciation of play award to some extent rather than something specifically about the player. The epitome of that was when Raffy won a Gold Glove having only played 26 games at first base and the rest at DH one year. People like to think Managers are great assessors of performance and talent, but they can be plagued by being too close to the action and remembering what a player is well known for as opposed to what he is actually doing. Most Gold Glove outfielders tend to win their awards a year or two or three past when they should have won them because of that reputation factor.

It is also interesting to note that it has now finally (after what 30 years?) become fully recognized that chances and errors are capable of grossly misleading information about the quality of a player. That false perspective about fielding percentage is known at the Depot as the Rubbermaid Trashcan Fallacy...which is that a Rubbermaid trashcan put out in the field would not commit a single error and could actually make a play or two.