Nick Markakis is the never-aging ironman of the Atlanta Braves. He’s been the epitome of consistency since returning home five years ago, and one of the most productive players on the team in each season since. However, his faults against left-handed pitching have been noticeable in 2019. Leaving one to ask – with all the depth in Atlanta – is there a better option than Markakis against southpaws?
Against right-handed pitching, Markakis has been borderline elite, hitting over .300, with a .382 OBP and nine home runs. He should be penciled in at the fifth spot in the order every night in those situations, but his numbers fall off a cliff when facing left-handers.
Markakis is hitting a dreadful .236 and getting on base at a .281 clip in just under 100 plate appearances this year. Even worse, are his power numbers. Markakis has yet to hit a homer off of a lefty and only has six doubles with 13 RBIs. He’s slugging .326 with an OPS of .606. That is unacceptable.
It is worth mentioning that this season is a bit of an outlier for Markakis. In his entire career, he’s hit .280 off left-handed pitching and batted .284 with a .765 OPS just last year. But at the same time, the power has always suffered when facing southpaws, recording only 36 home runs in his 14-year career and a measly .386 slugging percentage. It should be expected for this to worsen with age, meaning its time for the Braves to consider their options against left-handed starters.
Charlie Culberson- This is my least favorite solution. Culberson is the ideal pinch hitter, who thrives with the game on the line. It would be tough to lose him in those situations, but his numbers against left-handed pitching and ability to play anywhere on the diamond make him a potential replacement.
Charlie Clutch is abusing southpaws to the tune of a .379/.400/.621 slash line. It’s a tiny sample size (30 plate appearances), but from what I’ve seen, I’m not putting anything past this man. Once again, this is the last resort, but there are worse scenarios (like continuing to play Nick Markakis against lefties).
Johan Camargo- I’ve written about it several times and will continue to do so. The way the Braves have handled Johan Camargo this year has been absurd. He should be starting a couple of days a week, and instead, they have turned him into nothing more than a bench bat. In his career, Camargo is slashing .292/.343/.523 when facing left-handed pitching. That equates to a .866 OPS. He should have been spot starting for Markakis a long time ago.
Adam Duvall- I deem this solution the most unlikely. The excitement surrounding Adam Duvall’s 29 home runs in Gwinnett is proof of the fickle world we live in. He should be dominating Gwinnett, especially with the juiced balls going around baseball. Duvall is still striking out nearly once per contest, and that number will probably move north of one whenever he returns to the majors. Remember, he hit .132 in 33 games for Atlanta last year. Plus, there isn’t any room for him on the Braves, who are already using an extra bench-man (Ender Inciarte) while Max Fried is on the IL.
A trade- Yes, all the talk around the trade deadline is about the pitching staff, as it should be. But don’t rule out the possibility of adding a bat too. I think this article from 755 Battery Avenue does a fantastic job of breaking down the trade deadline dilemma. In a nutshell, every contending team is looking for another frontline starter or closer at the back end, but not all of them are in the market for a platoon right fielder that mashes left-handed pitching. As Alex Anthopoulos explains, it is “team-specific,” suggesting it won’t cost as much for the Braves to acquire.
When you look at it that way, Atlanta might want to consider doubling down on the offense that has put them in this position. Along with Nick Markakis’ problems versus southpaws, Austin Riley is in the midst of a severe slump, which has temporarily stopped the Braves offensive onslaught. For the right price, adding another bat makes plenty of sense.