Appreciating Nick Markakis

Chris Davis earlier this year echoed the sentiments of Oriole fans everywhere when he said, “He’s (Nick Markakis) a very underrated player in my opinion a guy who we appreciate a lot and value a lot”.  Baltimore Oriole fans fully understand that: A. Nick Markakis is very good and B. Few people outside of Baltimore know this. 

His awards consist of a gold glove in 2011, a most valuable Oriole award in 2007 and… well that’s pretty much it.  He should have seen his underappreciated career coming in 2008. This was his best year, leading the American League in wins above replacement (WAR), while having career bests in batting average (.306) on base percentage (.406), slugging (.491), and doubles (48).  Oh, and though not a career best, he also hit 20 homeruns.  Yet despite these gaudy numbers, he was not even considered for the Most Valuable Player award, nor was he even voted to the all-star game (Orioles representative in 2008 was George Sherrill… I’m not joking), nor was he even selected as the most valuable Oriole (darn you Aubrey Huff!).  Needless to say, his rewardless 2008 was not the first time Markakis was overlooked and it certainly would not be the last time.

In the 2003 MLB draft.  The Orioles selected in the first round, 7th overall, left handed pitcher/hitter Nick Markakis.  (At the time of his draft scouts were undecided whether he would be a better pitcher or a better hitter.)  Markakis was drafted 7th overall in a draft that saw Delmon Young go 1st overall.  After Young the following players were selected: Rickie Weeks, Kyle Sleeth, Tim Stauffer, Chis Lubanski, Ryan Harvey, and then Nick Markakis.

Tangentially, go all the way down to the 37th overall pick and you’ll find another familiar name, a short stop drafted by the Seattle Mariners.  That’s right Adam Jones was selected 31 picks after Markakis.  Go all the way down to the 45th round of that same draft and you’ll find the professional hitter himself, Steve Pearce (but I digress!).

Wins Above Replacement attempts to combine a player’s entire contribution to a team in a single stat. So how does Nick Markakis stack up amongst his peers in his draft class?  From those drafted throughout the 50 rounds of the 2003 draft, only Aaron Hill (24.6) and Ian Kinsler (38.1) have put up higher career wins above replacement than Markakis (24.2). Ranking third in WAR in this draft class becomes all the more impressive once you realize this draft class contained some big time names like Jonathan Papelbon (22.0), Matt Kemp (19.6), Max Scherzer (22.3), and Tim Lincecum (23.3).  Markakis career WAR is better than all of these players yet nationally all of these players get more recognition than Nick Markakis. 

Why is this? 

3 reasons come immediately to mind.

1. Markakis has never been a flashy guy.  He doesn’t blow bubbles, interact with fans on twitter, and slam pies on his teammates’ faces; nor does he really do anything to call attention to himself.  He just quietly goes about his business.

2. He plays for the Baltimore Orioles.   When Nick Markakis was drafted in 2003 the Orioles were bad.  When he made his debut in 2006 the Orioles were bad.  When he had his greatest years in 2007 and 2008 the Orioles were bad.  In fact, finally when the Orioles got some national love in 2012 and went to the playoffs, Markakis was on the disabled list. For the majority of his career, he has often been the second or third best player on a bad team. If one is going to be a good player on a bad team one better be the best player because they are the only ones that ever get recognized.  This is why most people learned the name of Brian Roberts and then Adam Jones but Nick Markakis was never really discussed on a national level.

3.  Markakis has never been great.  He’s never had a season where he’s hit 53 home runs, or stole 50 bases.  He’s just been solid every single year.  Markakis has batted over .290 all but two times in 8 full seasons.  His career batting average of is a boastful .291.  In the aforementioned 2003 draft, out of all the players drafted Markakis has played in the most games.

Markakis may have never been great in a single season but he has had a great career so far.  And in 2014 this consistency is needed as much as ever.  The Orioles team consists of streaky hitters who when they’re hot are some of the best hitters in baseball, but when they’re cold; they’re ice.  Post All Star game Adam Jones, Steve Pearce, Chris Davis, Jonathan Schoop, Nelson Cruz are all hitting under .200 (under .200!) Markakis meanwhile: .273, not amazing but solid.

In 2003, while describing himself the 19 year old, recently drafted, Nick Markakis had this to say, “I am a guy who is trying the best he can, but doesn’t try to do too much”.  He said this at 19.  He’s been living this quote for 11 years within the Orioles organization.  And this ‘doing the best he can’ may never be appreciated nationally, but all the Orioles fans that have witnessed Markakis play understand full well what he means to the Baltimore.