As a player who has accomplished quite a bit in his 14-year big league career, Nick Markakis’ contributions may not necessarily be measured or quantified by the numbers he posts in 2020. It’s true, there isn’t currently a clear path for the 36-year-old to receive many plate appearances this season, as the Braves have a rather large surplus of outfielders and also a few young prospects hoping to debut. Playing-time may come very sparingly for Markakis.
It is interesting, though, considering that most of this offseason, it was widely accepted that Markakis would share left field duties with righty Adam Duvall in 2020 (despite very little experience there). It wasn’t an ideal plan, but a plan nonetheless, even though I’d say the new arrangement that features the power-hitting Marcell Ozuna looks to be much more productive.
On Monday, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman — in one of his “Braves Inbox” write-ups — predicted that Markakis should receive around 230 plate appearances (or roughly 40 starts) this coming season, and I believe that’s a rather appropriate projection. Regardless, Markakis — most likely his last season as a Brave — will serve some kind of role in 2020. Let’s look at a few:
Ah… the cliche we’ve heard a million times. The importance of a “veteran presence” still exists, though how valuable it is depends on who you ask. If you ask me, I’d tell you it’s one of the most important aspects of a team… and I could give you tons of examples, ranging from Anibal Sanchez, Bartolo Colon, David Ross, Brian McCann and of course the great Hall of Famer Chipper Jones.
The more-analytical portion of baseball values veteran presence about as much as it does batting average (basically, not at all), but to me, it’s common sense that having someone seasoned and experienced in the clubhouse makes a difference. Though in Markakis’ case, he has been doing this since the Braves signed him back in December of 2014, to a 4-year, $44 million contract. The only difference is that, up until now, he has been a regular in the lineup.
But this coming season, Markakis will be in the dugout much more than in years past, and his “presence” should benefit the Braves over the course of a 162-game grind.
In my opinion, this is most likely where the left-handed-hitting Markakis will contribute the most in 2020, given he hits both flavors of pitching equally well (as most great contact-hitters do).
Career vs. RHP
.292 AVG, 115 wRC+, 12.6 K%
Career vs. LHP
.280 AVG, 94 wRC+, 14.5 K%
Despite being rather poor at it throughout his career (granted, he hasn’t done it much), Markakis wields all the qualities of an elite pinch-hitter. He doesn’t strike out much (13.1 K% for his career); he walks a decent amount (9.6 BB%), and he hardly ever swings and misses (4.8 SwStr%).
Sure, there’s not a ton of power in his swing, but Markakis led the Braves in contact-rate (88.8%) in 2019, as well as all active Braves since he joined the team in 2015 (88.5%). When Brian Snitker needs a pinch-hitter late in the game, Markakis certainly appears to be the guy to come through.
The weekly “pick-me-up”
As will any team, the Braves will be incredibly lucky if they’re able to make it through the entire season without injuries. Last season wasn’t too bad on the position-player side, but there’s always the potential that IL stints impact the Braves in 2020, and of course, Markakis would be there to fill in where needed admirably. But hopefully, this season, manager Brian Snitker won’t hesitate to allow rest for his regular starting-nine, perhaps avoiding some of the more extensive injuries.
Markakis has been used primarily as a right fielder throughout his career, playing in over 2,000 games at the position, but he should be able to provide rest for Marcell Ozuna in left and Ronald Acuna Jr. in right, and despite minimal experience at the position, Markakis shouldn’t have any problems giving first baseman Freddie Freeman an occasional day off as well.
Keeping players fresh — especially the guys in the outfield — is something the Braves will most likely count on Markakis for, even if Adam Duvall looks to be the unofficial fourth outfielder, at least to start the season.
The absence of playing-time doesn’t always mean contributions are absent, especially within the sport of baseball. Given that Markakis comes at such an affordable price this season ($4 million), his knowledge and leadership are more than worth it for this young Atlanta team.
Other than seemingly always fielding an elite defensive team, the Braves always find a way to keep true professionals around to serve as knowledgeable leaders. Now at 36-years-old and entering most likely one of his final seasons, Nick Markakis is just the latest example.