First, let me get this out of the way: Players go through slumps. It happens. And some last longer than others. It's too early to completely give up on Nick Markakis, whose 0-4 game last night dropped his on-base percentage under .300 (to .298). But he's looked pretty bad for more than two months now, and there are some disturbing trends forming.
Markakis is 27 years old. He should be in the prime of his career and hitting the cover off the ball. But as my friend Daniel Moroz of Camden Crazies pointed out the other day, "Some guys peak at 24." That's true, and it's yet another reason to be concerned about Markakis.
What are the things that (at least previously) Markakis does best?
- Gets on base a lot.
- Covers the plate and hits line drives to all fields.
- Is an OK outfielder with limited range, but has a great arm.
Those are the main three, right? He doesn't hit for much power, doesn't have blazing speed, and is probably an average to below-average right fielder at this point. (FanGraphs has him slightly above average so far this season, so that's something.) It's probably not entirely fair to judge Markakis on a broader scale solely because of his current numbers (he's slugging only .304 too), but if he's not excelling in those three areas above, then he's not giving the O's much value. And so far, he has a -0.1 fWAR (FanGraphs WAR).
Markakis has cut down on his strikeouts (12.2 K%), but he's also walking much less (6.9 BB%). He's always been willing to work the count and take a walk, but that hasn't been the case this season. He's been unlucky on balls in play (.251 BABIP), and he's hitting a lot of line drives as well (22.3 LD%). But he's doing some weird things too, like owning a 17.3 percent infield fly ball percentage, swinging at more pitches out of the zone (27.3%) and overall (46.0%), and making less contact when swinging at all pitches (85.7%). So sure, he's due for a few more hits to drop in here and there, which should raise his numbers a bit. But that won't necessarily result in a huge jump in extra-base hits for Markakis, who has only hit four doubles and four home runs. Now that's shocking.
Markakis's current deal runs for at least three more seasons. He's making $10.25 million this year, and he'll make at least $42 million over the next three. (He also has a $17.5 million club option in 2015, with a $2 million buyout.) Markakis's deal, signed in early 2009, seemed pretty good at the time, but it's not looking that great now. So for those people out there, not that there's many of them, suggesting that the Orioles simply trade Markakis away, that may not be such an easy task.
Maybe the most frustrating thing about Markakis is that he's supposed to be the one constant in the O's lineup. I've been saying for a while now that the O's have struggled to produce young talent at the major league level, but guys like Adam Jones and Matt Wieters appear to be taking at least small steps forward (not to mention the strides by a few young pitchers). Unfortunately, if Markakis really has regressed this much, that's yet another position the O's need to be worried about.