3 seasons ago Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis was regarded as one of the games best players. Since then he’s been a little bit better then average. Did he hit his peak early and is now declining or is there something else going on?
In 2008 Markakis had his best season in the majors. He had 6.3 WAR and a .389 wOBA. He also showed that he had solid power, putting up a .185 wOBA. He showed that he also has a good eye at the plate, walking 14.2% of the time. Thanks to his good eye at the plate, among other factors Markakis had a slash line of .306/.406/.491. In 2008 his .350 BABIP was unusually high so there’s evidence to suggest that he just wasn’t that good. He was seeing the fastball really well, he was worth 25 runs against it. If Markakis was doing so good what caused the decline?
The first thing that jumps out at you is the declining ISO numbers that Marakis experiences. One of the main factors that can indicate a player is on the decline is if a player’s power numbers are down. For Markakis that’s been the outcome the last three seasons. In 2008 Markakis’ .350 BABIP was highly unsustainable. The second highest BABIP Markakis posted was .331. He did that two times. In 2007 he had a 4.3 WAR and .185 ISO. In 2010 he did it again but only posted a .138 ISO and 2.6 WAR.
If you look even closer you’ll notice two stats that could point directly to Markakis’ struggles. Those stats are O-Swing% and O-Contact%. These stats tell us how often a batter swings at pitches outside the strike zone and how often he makes contact with pitches outside the zone. Markakis’ O-Contact is the disturbing one. For 2010 league average for O-Contact% was 66.5%. The 2011 average shouldn’t be too far off. As you can tell Markakis has steadily increased his O-Contact% the last three years. As a result statistics like ISO, OBP and wOBA have declined. I haven’t done any tests but I imagine there must be some sort of correlation there. If Markakis can stop making contact with bad pitches he might be able to be back to being a productive hitter.
xBABIP projects Markakis to have a .320 BABIP next season which is right at his .323 career norm. xH (Expected hits) says he’ll get 193 hits next season. His xAVG, xOBP and xSLG are .301/.366/.423. Besides the SLG that’s right around career average. If he keeps swinging at bad pitches and never gets his power back Markakis will never be a 4 WAR player again. While he could be a servicable player it would be a shame if he peaked too early, he could have been one of the games better outfielders.