Nick Markakis was unable to replicate his All-Star showing of 2018, but turned in a reasonable, if unspectacular, season for the Atlanta Braves in 2019. In many ways, you could say that Markakis put together a typical Markakis season. Consider his five seasons (so far) spent in Atlanta.
- 2015 - 106 wRC+ and 1.4 fWAR
- 2016 - 98 wRC+ and 1.2 fWAR
- 2017 - 94 wRC+ and 0.6 fWAR
- 2018 - 115 wRC+ and 2.6 fWAR
- 2019 - 102 wRC+ and 0.4 fWAR
2018 is clearly the outlier; Markakis has routinely given the Braves below-average, bordering on replacement-level production during his five other years in Atlanta.
What went right in 2019?
The Braves signed Markakis to a one-year deal worth $4 million which contained a $6 million option for 2020. More on that option later; the $4 million price tag was in line with Markakis’ recent production. The signing came with talk that he would see more regular days off in hopes of keeping him fresh for the full season. In the end, he put together a Markakis-type season offensively, slashing .285/.356/.420 with 25 doubles and nine home runs in 116 games.
On May 5, against the Marlins, he was perfect at the plate: two walks, a homer, and a single. His homer broke a scoreless tie in the seventh, but the Braves would need to go to extras to pull out the victory.
He also had a very cool moment on June 29 in New York: down by one, and having entered the game on a rest day as an injury replacement, he clobbered a 3-0 pitch from Seth Lugo to tie the game.
More of this in 2020, Markakis! Austin Riley would go back-to-back to put the Braves ahead, and they would end up winning by that 5-4 score.
What went wrong in 2019?
Markakis struggled to produce against left-handed pitching, slashing .245/.310/.343 with a meager 71 wRC+ in 113 plate appearances. Despite (somehow) winning a Gold Glove the previous season, he still didn’t rate well defensively and was shifted to left field down the stretch.
He was hit in the wrist by a pitch from Philadelphia’s Cole Irvin late in July. X-Rays eventually revealed a fracture which would cause him to miss six weeks. He returned on September 13 and went 14-for-48 over the final 12 games with just three extra base hits. September 17 was a good example of his post-return futility: after dunking a single into left field in the first inning, he hit two balls above 95 mph but on the ground later in the game for groundouts, and also struck out. He was up with the tying run on third and two outs in the ninth, but could only pop out weakly on a fastball down the middle to end the game.
Markakis started all five games of the Division Series going 3-for-21 with a double in five games against the Cardinals.
What should we expect in 2020?
More of the same but maybe not quite as much? The Braves declined Markakis’ option for 2020 on Monday but then re-signed him to a one-year, $4 million deal in what amounted to some accounting gymnastics. Alex Anthopoulos spoke with reporters afterwards and said that the team had discussed with Markakis the possibility of being a platoon option in left field before bringing him back.
Predictably, that announcement was met with criticism and skepticism, given that manager Brian Snitker has appeared reluctant to give Markakis a single day off, much less use him as a part-time player.
There is some merit to the thinking, however. Markakis posted a .298/.371/.446 line and a 112 wRC+ in 356 plate appearances against right-handed pitching in 2019. Pairing him with an Adam Duvall or Austin Riley could potentially be a productive move. Of course, the key to that scenario is first getting Snitker on board. Another key is having the Duvall/Riley portion of the platoon produce, and a third portion is hoping that Markakis’ defense doesn’t impair the value from his platoon-advantaged batting line.
Atlanta stuck with Markakis in 2018 rather than seeking an upgrade for right field. They were able to make it work thanks to improvements from the rest of the roster. If they are going to run him back out there again in 2020 then they owe to themselves to deploy him in a situation where he can be most successful.