At the end of April, there was plenty of optimism surrounding Nick Markakis. The veteran outfielder was sporting a pleasing slash line of .310/.390/.437 across exactly 100 plate appearances and visions of a bounce-back to his Baltimore Orioles days were in full bloom. Since then, however, things have gone south for the Atlanta Braves right fielder and, as usual, power is at the center of it all.
It should be noted that, on the whole, Markakis has not been “bad” through two-plus months of play. Both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference assign him with a 0.3 WAR metric at this point and his .361 on-base percentage is nothing to sneeze at, even in a corner outfield spot. With that said, the regression has been sharp and it underlines the issues that, well, have always been there for Markakis since arriving in Atlanta.
His slugging percentage now sits at .383 over two-plus seasons with the Braves and fans have likely come to terms with that reality. However, his slugging percentage this season now sits at a four-year low of .362 and, when coupled with a .358 BABIP, there are reasons to be concerned with Markakis. BABIP isn’t everything and that has to be noted but the veteran’s career mark is .317 and there are real signs that Markakis has actually been lucky to compile his (very) modest numbers this season.
A deeper look indicates that Markakis sports his second-highest groundball rate (51. percent) over a decade’s worth of play and that spiked to an unsustainably bad 58 percent during the month of May. On the bright side, Markakis does have some positive signs with a 22.3 percent line drive rate (up from the recent past) and his hard contact rate for the season (34.9 percent) is just fine as well.
As usual in early June, it is probably too early for sweeping judgments but Markakis is hitting the ball on the ground far too often for a player with limited foot speed. When he is hitting the ball in the air, though, the ball isn’t carrying in a way that is befitting of a “power” position like right field.
MLB’s statcast tells us that Markakis’ average exit velocity (88.56 MPH) is approximately league average and that is somewhat encouraging. In contrast, the average height of his batted balls (29.59 feet) is more than ten (!) feet shorter than the league average and his launch angle is also quite a bit lower.
What does it all mean? Well, at the moment, Nick Markakis is something of a slap hitter. That has been the case, at least to some degree, during his Braves tenure and the early performance could be directly linked to the neck injury suffered before ever putting on an Atlanta uniform. There were signs of life last season with a .397 slugging percentage that is certainly passable given the rest of his profile but, at the age of 33, there is at least a chance that the power is evaporating to a further degree.
Because his on-base skills are real and apparent (.361 this year), Markakis will never be a disastrous hitter at the plate. His 94 wRC+ is, by nature of the stat, below league-average but not in a wretched way. Markakis’ defense has always been a point of contention but, even if we agree it is below-average based on lack of range (and the advanced metrics agree), he isn’t a sieve by any stretch.
Overall, Nick Markakis has been slightly worse this season than during his previous two years with the Atlanta Braves and that makes sense for a player of his age. Part of it could be small sample, as his .262/.340/.310 slash line since May 1 (141 PA) does plenty to mar his strong start. On the flip side, however, this is something worth monitoring because, for all of his gifts, power is not one of them and Markakis continues (and likely will continue) to dwell within the middle part of the Atlanta Braves lineup on a daily basis.