2017 Atlanta Braves Player Preview: Nick Markakis

Aug 2, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves right fielder Nick Markakis (22) hits a home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the eighth inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 2, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves right fielder Nick Markakis (22) hits a home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the eighth inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

After watching Nick Markakis play for the Atlanta Braves the past couple of years the best way I know how to describe him is consistent.

People have a tendency to confuse the word consistent for a compliment. You’ll often hear announcers heap praises on guys for the consistency with which they play. But consistent, by itself, is not a compliment. Nor is it an insult. Being consistently bad at something is just as much a negative as being consistently good at something is a positive. And Nick Markakis has been consistently average for the Atlanta Braves.

There’s was a time, of course, when Markakis was more than that. He posted 12 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in his first 3 years in the majors, including a very impressive 6 WAR season in 2008 and looked like he was on his way to being a superstar.

In the 8 seasons since then, though, he’s accumulated just 12 WAR with each year being between a 1 and 2 win season. This is the very definition of average.

Don’t, of course, confuse average with replacement level. Being an average major league baseball player is still highly valuable and highly profitable. Markakis has carved out a nice 11-year career with over $92 million in career earnings with another $22 million left on his contract. We should all be so average.

Side note: Play baseball kids.

So the question is what should we expect in 2017?

What I think we’ll see

The great thing about consistent players is it makes predicting their upcoming seasons a relatively elementary exercise. These are the type of players that projection systems love because it makes them look smart.

Just take an average of the last 3 years performance, regress the numbers for the players age and voila! You have a pretty accurate forecast.

Last 3 years, Markakis has hit .281/.354/.387 with a 107 ISO, a 104 wRC+ and below average defense.

Markakis’ Steamer projection is .271/.346/.385 with a 114 ISO, a 95 wRC+ and below average defense.

As you can see, his 2017 projection is basically an average of his last 3 seasons regressed for age. This is what I expect.

If you think the defense will be better than below average, I won’t argue too much.

By DRS, Markakis had good year with the glove last year at +10. UZR was less impressed, grading him out at basically league average. Again, he’s another year older so the prudent thing to do is regress the numbers a bit which is why I think it will be below average, but it’s okay if you don’t.

What I hope we’ll see

While you typically can’t teach an old dog new tricks, you can remind an old dog of a trick he used to know and I think there’s an aspect of Nick Markakis’ game that needs a retro look.

Look at this table:

This table is the last 4 years of his contact rate/ISO with the best season of his career, 2008, at the top for a as a comparison. As you can see, Markakis has basically become a high contact singles hitter. But I think he can be more.

I’ve talked about this concept twice before. Once was with Freddie Freeman and how he found the right balance of sacrificing contact to gain power. The other was Matt Kemp and how he went too far in sacrificing contact for power. Markakis is at the other end of the spectrum sacrificing a good chunk of his power for contact.

Atlanta Braves
Atlanta Braves /

Atlanta Braves

I should note, some of this change in approach was necessary because of the neck surgery he had before the 2015 season. He was robbed of a some of his power and adjusted so he could continue to be a serviceable player. But the increase in contact rate and decrease of power started long before the neck surgery so it certainly all can’t be attributed to the injury.

I would like to see Markakis go for broke a little more when he gets a favorable count and see if he can do a little more damage. Even if it means striking out a little more.

Freeman, as well as many other players, have shown us sacrificing contact to increase the amount of damage you’re doing at the plate is an efficient way to increase your overall value.

As the table shows, Markakis himself showed us that in 2008 when he put up career high ISO and a career low contact rate. He also put up the best wRC+ of his career at 138.

What’s encouraging is we started to see this last year. The 88% contact rate he put up was his lowest in the last 4 years and consequently the .129 ISO was his highest the last 4 years. He slowly started to shift back into the hitting profile that made him so successful. And since the results he saw were positive, hopefully more follows.

Clearly I’m a fan of guys focusing less on quantity of contact and more on quality of contact and Markakis’ profile is a prime example of guy who could benefit from it. We’ll see.

Next: We Already Know What Will Happen in 2017

2017 Prediction

.275/.350/.401  140 ISO  103 wRC+  1.5 WAR  -1 UZR