The Orioles lost Nick Markakis on Saturday for more or less the rest of the season following his broken thumb. There are several ways I want to look at this.
First, there’s what it means from the standpoint of the Orioles’ playoff chances. It’s definitely not good; losing any of your starters is, in general, bad. Losing a starter in September, when there’s no way to replace them through trade or waiver move, is even worse. Even with expanded rosters, if the Orioles had someone immediately capable of stepping in and replacing Markakis’ production, he should, in theory, already be on the roster and playing.
Then there’s what he means to the Orioles specifically. For as good as they’ve been this season, the Orioles are not a very deep team. Going by Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement, for example, Markakis has been the fourth best hitter for Baltimore this season despite already missing 36 games to injury. Even giving him 30 extra games at the rate he’s been going still only puts him at 2.3 WAR, just ahead of J.J. Hardy for third place.
For comparison, the Rays and Yankees are much deeper. Even with his estimated full season total, he would rank fifth in both teams’ line-ups, and that’s not even accounting for their key injuries like Alex Rodriguez and Evan Longoria. Any way you want to look at it, Markakis’ injury means a lot to a team that needs as much value as it can get for the stretch to keep up with strong competitors.
Granted, it might be even worse than that. He has a 124 weighted Run Created (meaning he’s created about 24% more runs than a league average batter), which ranks second among Oriole hitters with at least 70 plate appearances. More or less, he’s been the best bat on the team behind Adam Jones. For a team that ranks fifteenth in the Majors in runs scored and has been outscored by 29 runs total on the year, this could be very bad.
This might also be a good time to look at Markakis’ career, just as a fan. Since he broke into the majors back in 2006, I’ve been a huge fan of his. But looking how his career has gone since then is weird. Seeing him with only 1.8 WAR this year, even in a shortened 104 games, just seems disappointing in a way. Had he made it to 160 games, as he did in the past two seasons, he would have still only reached a solid, but not jaw-dropping 2.8 Wins. For a player who put up 4.3 WAR as a 23-year-old in 2007 and 6.3 WAR the year after, what’s happened since has looked like a flatline:
2009: 2.3 WAR
2010: 2.6 WAR
2011: 2.2 WAR
Part of me wonders what’s happened. In actuality, this year has been a step in the right direction. That 124 weighted Runs Created mark is the second highest of his career, and actually better than his career average. Really, the biggest drag on his value has been his fielding.
After very strong fielding in his first three years, he’s fallen off to a slightly below-average mark. Total Zone Rating and Ultimate Zone Rating both agree on that. His arm rates out as above average, but his range is apparently dragging his fielding down. That sort of makes me wonder if the Orioles should try him in left field next season to maximize his abilities, but at this point, it’s just idle speculation.
What’s important now is that the Orioles have now lost their second-best hitter in the middle of a play-off hunt, and it’s not entirely clear what they can do to replace him.