I realize at a time when the world as we know it has been turned upside down, the realization that a 36-year-old ballplayer — who has made almost $120 million during his career — potentially not able to reach a historic milestone could perhaps be a rather tone-deaf topic. But, with no baseball games these days, we writers are almost desperate for a story. I don’t feel sorry for Nick Markakis. Really, no one should. He has been an average to above-average major leaguer overall for 14 seasons now and has made a lot of money as one of the better contact-hitters during our generation. However, the suspension of the 2020 regular season has screwed up his quest for 3,000 career hits — an achievement that was already going to require everything going just right.
According to an ESPN article written on Wednesday (by Bradford Doolittle), the career-projection concept named “The Favorite Toy” (created by Bill James) gave Markakis a 1-in-4 chance of reaching 3,000 hits after the 2019 season. However, add another year to his age and what is basically a lost season this year, and those chances drop in half.
When you glance over Markakis’ Baseball-Reference page, you’ll find that the veteran has a 162-game average of 180 hits per season over his 14-year career, which is quite impressive but perhaps not as relative as it once was, given Markakis has reached 180 hits just once in the last four seasons and twice in the previous eight. Either way, with 2,355 career hits, Markakis still needs 645 knocks to reach the 3,000 mark — a threshold 32 players have achieved in MLB history, including only 13 left-handers (17 RHB and two switch-hitters). If we factor Markakis’ career average (180 hits per season), he would need a hair over 3.5 more seasons to get there, meaning he would have to be a productive hitter through most of his age-40 season, to be safe. Yes, that’s doubtful, but at least before the COVID-19 pandemic suspended baseball, Markakis had somewhat of a fighting chance.
Last season Markakis broke his wrist, resulting in 116 games in 2019 — the least productive season of his career. This coming year wasn’t going to provide much playing time for him, either, as Marcell Ozuna, Ender Inciarte, and Ronald Acuna Jr. were set to be the Braves’ starting outfielders. Although, there was a decent chance that Markakis could’ve tallied around 250 plate appearances serving as a bench bat or occasional first baseman (where he worked out some during camp this spring). A season of 250 plate appearances would’ve possibly given Markakis 50-60 hits, which wouldn’t have chipped away much at that 645 number, but it’s better than nothing. Now, even a full-time player could be lucky to get 250 plate appearances in 2020.
Markakis was re-signed to a one-year deal this past winter ($4 million) and it’s extremely doubtful the Braves re-sign him again next offseason, which for Markakis is probably a good thing, at least regarding his chase for 3,000. There are several rebuilding teams that could use a healthy body or a veteran presence in its lineup, and Markakis is still in fantastic shape physically. For a team like the Marlins or Tigers… or Orioles (!), who’s to say he couldn’t play into his 40s?… and at-bats would most likely be available.
Granted, this is all assuming Markakis even cares about such an accolade. As our own Chase Irle opined back last September — when he wrote about this same subject — it’s all just a matter of how meaningful 3,000 hits is to Markakis, a guy who very rarely shows any interest in discussing personal accomplishments… or anything for that matter (except when it comes to the Astros cheating!).
Either way, 3,000 hits or not, Markakis has put together an impressive major league career, featuring an All-Star bid, three Gold Gloves, and a Silver Slugger award, to go with a .288 AVG and 188 home runs. No, reaching 3,000 hits probably won’t get him in the Hall of Fame (he only has 34.2 bWAR thus far, with only recently-enshrined Harold Baines anywhere near him on the right field JAWS leaderboard), but such an accolade would put him on a very short list of all-time greats and be the perfect accomplishment to end a tremendous big league career. Hopefully, baseball will return in 2020 so Markakis can keep chipping away.