I was very critical of the Braves when they decided to bring back Nick Markakis, an aging right fielder coming off, possibly, the best season of his career, to a one-year deal. In my mind, it made no sense to bring back a player who can only go down after his highs of the season before. With outfielders on the market like A.J. Pollack and Marwin Gonzalez, bringing back Nick Markakis to the team was a mistake. Through the first 35 games of the season, Markakis has been the one proving me wrong.
In 2018, Nick Markakis was an All-Star, his first ever time for that honor, Gold Glove winner, and the recipient of a Silver Slugger award. At age 34, Markakis had one of his best seasons during his 13-year career. Since joining the Braves, in 2015, Markakis posted his highest home runs, RBI, batting average, and OPS. Markakis also played all 162 games. For his effort, the Braves gave Markakis a new contract for 2019 with a team option in 2020.
Much to my surprise, Markakis has not slowed down in 2019. According to Baseball Reference, through the first 35 games of the season, Markakis is posting a .331 batting average, that is tops for any Braves batter so far, and a .937 OPS. Markakis has also hit 4 home runs and 22 RBI to start the season. Compare those numbers to last season, through 35 games, Markakis was batting .338 and his OPS was .973. The problem with last season was the workload for Markakis, as noted earlier, he played all 162 games. This season, the Braves have stated their plans to give Markakis more rest as the season goes along.
Markakis isn’t posting empty numbers either. The Braves success has been tied to whether Markakis is hitting the ball on that given day. When looking at his batting splits, Nick Markakis is very valuable to the Braves. In wins, Markakis is hitting .435 with an OPS of 1.267. Also, his home runs and RBI, 3 HRs and 13 RBI in wins, increase when the Braves win. In losses, Markakis’s batting average drops to .220 and OPS is at .574. It is no coincidence that the Braves success is tied directly to Markakis and his success at the plate. Markakis moved out of the cleanup spot, his primary batting position last season, to hitting behind Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna, which has provided more opportunities to impact the game.
Bringing back Markakis, at such a cheap price, was a steal for the Braves. I was very critical of the move at the time, but now, I’m ready to admit that I was wrong. If we are taking WAR, wins above replacement, as the end-all stat, Markakis would be more valuable, 1.6, than Freeman, 1.2, and Acuna, 1.4. It’s still early in the season, but nonetheless impressive. Clearly, the Braves knew what they were doing when deciding to bring Markakis back rather than paying for an overpriced free agent. If Markakis can continue at this pace, he will be proving a lot of people wrong this season.