Baltimore Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis had to be aware of the droves of critics over the most recent offseason. Without doubt, Markakis suffered through his worst season in 2013. And the question was essentially this: Was his lackluster performance the result of a series of injuries that included the beaning by CC Sabathia at the end of the 2012 season, or was his decrease in production due to a decline in skills as he gets older?
Some of the criticisms mocked him as a slow, singles only spray-hitter, certainly unworthy of the leadoff position. Though he does indeed lack some of the characteristics of a leadoff hitter in terms of speed and base-stealing potential, he does work counts and get on base.
Nick has especially done well in getting on base in the first inning of games, where he is now batting .333. Markakis has also performed well in extra innings, as he is currently 8-for-13 in those situations. He hits lefties and righties at virtually the same average. And his defense is at the top of the sport, evidenced by his Gold Glove awards and nightly outstanding plays. His current streak of 283 consecutive games without an error in the outfield is a franchise record.
Markakis is #1 in the American League in plate appearances with 505. He ranks fifth in hits with a total of 131, and his batting average of .286 is well within the top 20.
After being drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 1st round (7th pick) of the 2003 amateur draft, Markakis is now the longest-lasting of O’s players. With three hits on Sunday, he passed the 1500-hit plateau, and only Brady Anderson (1,589) has more hits as an Orioles outfielder.
Markakis is making $15 million this year, as he did in 2013. There is an option for him to be retained by the Orioles for $17.5 million in 2015. In March of this year, it was pretty much unanimously assumed that the Birds would not be very likely to exercise that to bring him back at such a cost. At this point, after what has transpired this year, it would seem rather probable that Markakis will be in right field when the season opens next year.
Nick is obviously a fairly quiet and introspective person. He is not one to talk about feelings and strong opinions. My guess is that he was not anywhere near full health all of last year, affecting his preparation in the spring of 2013 and his performance throughout the year. But with the physical issues behind him over this past winter, I believe he went after a training regimen with a total vengeance to be more fit than ever and able to put up numbers equaling his historic averages.
The home run on Sunday that accounted for the only run by either side was his ninth of the season. He has just missed on a few others of late in the cavernous parks out west – shots that would have been out of Camden Yards.
Nick Markakis is back. And Nick Markakis will be back.