Like my ’92 Toyota Camry that ran for three years despite, or in spite of, me not changing the oil, Nick Markakis just goes and goes. Yet, for the first time in his career he runs the risk of missing time due to injury. Ok, technically I’m wrong. He’s missed four games due to injury in his entire six year career, and just one since 2006. That streak may be in jeopardy thanks to the abdominal surgery he underwent last Thursday. He first injured the area sliding into a base in early September but played through the pain for the remainder of the season.
Despite the extensive muscle damage Markakis expects to be ready for opening day. Ryan Zimmerman had the same surgery preformed last May and missed six weeks. He wasn’t the same upon his return, putting up a .580 OPS in June. It wasn’t until mid-July that he started to find his groove again. Markakis has roughly 40 days before the start of spring training, so there’s a good chance he’s ready unless the injury is re-aggravated. If he’s not healthy the Orioles would likely turn to veteran Endy Chavez who hit .301 in 83 games with the Rangers last season. Another candidate is Jai Miller, who is with his fourth organization in the past three seasons. Miller’s Triple-A numbers are good, especially the .956 OPS last season, but come with the caveat that they were produced in the extremely hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.
Say Markakis is ready to go opening day, what can we expect from him? The past two seasons have been wildly disappointing, with 2011 being the worst of his career. His isolated slugging (slugging percentage minus batting average) has decreased each of the past four seasons from .185 to .122. After knocking in an average of 100 runs from ’07-’09 he’s averaged just 133 the last two years. His runs scored have also dropped each of the past three seasons. Some of that has to do with the Orioles offense but Markakis isn’t without blame. His O-Swing% (percentage of swings outside the strikezone) has risen every year since 2008. He’s not trending in a good direction.
Some sites have published their early 2012 big boards. ESPN and CBS have Markakis ranked as the 31st and 28th best outfielder, respectively. ESPN has him ranked above Ben Zobrist, Michael Morse, Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran. Personally, I think he’s being overvalued thanks to name recognition and durability. Each of those players does many things better than Markakis. He’s not a bad hitter by any means but will be coming off a major surgery with two seasons of sub-par performance under his belt. Buyer beware.