Everyone owns a piece of clothing that feels right every time you put it on. Maybe it’s an old shirt that still fits perfectly. Maybe it’s a comfy pair of socks or an old hat you’ll never get rid of. No matter what it is, it’s dependable. It’s not the flashiest or most expensive thing in your dresser or closet, but it wouldn’t feel right if you didn’t have it.
That’s what Nick Markakis felt like to many Orioles fans. It was comforting to see him in right field night after night, and it wasn’t the same when he moved on to the second phase of his career with the Atlanta Braves. With Markakis announcing his retirement earlier this year, it’s worth reflecting on his memorable Orioles tenure.
Flair wasn’t in Markakis’ arsenal, but he was reliable. In his nine years in Baltimore from 2006-2014, he never posted a batting average under .271 and only finished with a wRC+ below 105 once.
Markakis wasn’t overwhelming, but he was a constant in the Orioles’ lineup, in part because he was almost always available. He averaged more than 151 games played per season during his O’s career. If not for surgery to remove a broken hamate bone in his right wrist and an errant CC Sabathia fastball that broke his left thumb in 2012 when he played in 104 games, Markakis would have averaged even more. Still, in those nine years, his 1,365 games played ranked fifth among all players and his 5,966 total plate appearances ranked fourth.
The ultimate baseball example of showing up every day and being excellent is already well known to Orioles fans. Cal Ripken Jr.’s streak of 2,632 consecutive games played is a record that will never be broken and a feat that no current player would even think to attempt. No one would ever confuse Markakis for Ripken, but Markakis’ contributions place him alongside some of the best outfielders in Orioles history.
Since 1954, when the St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles, Markakis ranks seventh among all Orioles outfielders with a 23.1 fWAR (FanGraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement). He isn’t in the same tier as stars like Paul Blair and Frank Robinson (who accumulated a tremendous 33.4 fWAR in just six seasons with the Orioles), but it’s fitting that Markakis slots in right behind former teammate Adam Jones (29.7).
More of an on-base and doubles threat than a feared power hitter, Markakis played often and hit atop the Orioles lineup, so he collected plenty of numbers. Among all qualified Orioles outfielders since 1954, his numbers stand out. His .290 batting average ranks fourth, his .358 on-base percentage is tied for 12th and his .435 slugging percentage ranks 18th. He’s sixth in home runs (141), fifth in runs scored (749), fifth in runs batted in (658), second in doubles (316) and fourth in total hits (1,547).
Early in his career, there was hope for even more. Markakis’ two best years came in his second and third seasons, when he posted a 121 wRC+ and 4.1 fWAR in 2007 and followed it up with a phenomenal 138 wRC+ and 6.1 fWAR in 2008. Since 2000, only four Orioles have posted better individual seasons by fWAR than Markakis’ 2008: Chris Davis (7.1 in 2013), Brian Roberts (6.8 in 2005), Manny Machado (6.6 and 6.3 in 2015 and 2016, respectively) and Melvin Mora (6.2 in 2004).
After 2008, Markakis settled in to being a very good player. He finished with an fWAR of at least 1.5 in every season but one but never eclipsed 2.5. He came close to reaching his early-career highs with a 126 wRC+ in 2012, but those two injuries cut his season short.
When many fans think of Markakis, his right field defense comes to mind first. He possessed a strong and accurate arm (only Blair, with 101, has more assists than Markakis and Jones, tied at 93), and his ability to play the ball off the scoreboard in right field at Camden Yards was second to none. Still, he was dinged by advanced defensive metrics at the time, mainly for a perceived lack of range. There were balls in the gap that Markakis wouldn’t get to that a fleet-footed outfielder could probably run down, but fans still felt comfortable with him out there.
What images appear when you look back on Markakis’ time in an Orioles jersey? Is it one of those well-placed throws or another solid defensive play? Is it his steady batting stance or the ease with which he could rope the ball in the gap or slice the ball down the left field line? Or maybe it’s the lasting imagine of Markakis smiling after the Orioles clinched the American League East in 2014, realizing he’d finally appear in the playoffs.
Markakis was one of the best Orioles for nearly a decade during a time that was mainly filled with underwhelming Baltimore baseball. He played often and played well. He won two Gold Gloves. Somehow, he didn’t appear in a single All-Star Game as an Oriole, but his presence eventually helped lead fans out of the wilderness. His Orioles career could have been longer or better, but those good memories and moments he provided won’t go away.
Weighted runs created plus (wRC+) is an offensive metric in which 100 is the league average and every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles