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Some Words on Nick Markakis

Note: This post was originally written in July 2019. I'm reposting it here, on my new website, as Markakis just re-joined the Braves, but unfortunately sees his quest for 3,000 hits complicated by the shortened season, and injuries suffered in the second half of last season (he only has 22 more hits now than he had when I wrote the post).

Here's a long, fun baseball post. I didn't know where else to put it, so it's here. My favorite unlikely baseball hypothetical involves the Braves' right fielder, Nick Markakis. Markakis almost certainly won't get there, but he has a very outside chance at making it to 3,000 career hits - and he'd be, by far, the worst player ever to make it to that milestone. Markakis is 35, and has 2,334 hits in his career, meaning he needs another 666 to get to 3,000. At his current pace, he'll finish this season with about 160 hits (and about 2,400 for his career). That'd mean he'd need to get 600 more hits to get to 3,000 - he's still a decent hitter, and in fact 2018 was his first (and only!) all-star season. If he were to play another five seasons he'd only need to average about 120 hits per year to get 600. He'd be 39 after five seasons - it is, in truth, rare for players to play that long, especially nowadays, and even rarer for players to be getting 100+ hits deep into their 30s. But it's not completely out of the realm of possibility.

Now, let's address the fun part of this equation: if Markakis got to 3,000, he'd be just the 33rd player in MLB history to make it there. (He already ranks 143rd all-time in hits.) Of those players, every single one of them is in the Hall of Fame except for six: Pete Rose (who has been banned for life), Albert Pujols, Adrian Beltre and Ichiro Suzuki (who aren't yet eligible but will make it on their first ballot) and Rafael Palmeiro and Alex Rodriguez (who were suspended for steroid use). Most of the 3,000 hit players are what we call "inner circle" Hall of Famers - the guys you think of when you think of the best players of all time, like Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, and Ty Cobb. Others are some of the best leadoff and pure hitters ever: guys like Rickey Henderson, Rod Carew, Tony Gwynn, and Wade Boggs. Others are excellent all-around players and staples of consistency who enjoyed significant individual success, such as Robin Yount, Al Kaline, and Cal Ripken.

Among the 3,000 hit players, only six have less than 70 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), a cumulative career stat that basically measures how much better a player would be than your standard AAAA fill in guy. Those six are Eddie Murray, who finished top six in MVP voting six times; Tony Gwynn, a 15-time all-star who came closer than anyone to hitting .400 in the modern era; Dave Winfield, who was a great all-around offensive player, in addition to being one of the greatest all-around athletes of all time; Ichiro, who didn't start his MLB career until age 27 and, had he come up in the US, would likely be the all-time hits leader; Craig Biggio, maybe the biggest contender on this list for previous worst player in the 3,000 club, but who was nonetheless a seven time all-star, stole over 400 bases, led the league in doubles three times, and played three different premium defensive positions in his career; and Lou Brock, whose numbers are admittedly worse than the rest of these guys, but who was the all-time leader in stolen bases when he retired in 1979. Brock's 45.3 WAR is the lowest of these six players, by a significant margin; Ichiro is next lowest with 59.4. Nick Markakis currently has a career WAR of 32.9. This season – a season in which he's hitting .285 with 96 hits through 95 games – his WAR is .7. It's reasonable to think that even if Markakis did make it to the 3,000 hit club, his career WAR would be somewhere in the 35-37 range, almost 25% lower than Brock.

Markakis has made one all-star game in his career. Last season he finished 18th in NL MVP voting, the only time in his career he ever got so much as one MVP vote. He has one Silver Slugger award. He's won three Gold Gloves, but the numbers suggest that for his career he's basically an average fielder – in Right Field, one of the least important defensive positions. He finished sixth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2006. His career high in home runs in a season is 23 – he's only hit 20 twice, and has just 187 for his career. He's played in the postseason twice, losing once in the division series (with Atlanta) and once in the ALCS (with Baltimore). He's 9-for-43 in his postseason career with one home run. His career OPS+, the number that grades you against the rest of the league as an offensive player, with 100 being average, 90 being 10% below average, 110 being 10% above average, etc., is 101. He's almost exactly an average offensive player. His most similar batters are Cesar Cedeno, Jose Cruz and Amos Otis. I can't tell you anything about any of those guys.

Yet, he could get to 3,000 hits, and history tells us that – in literally every case that hasn't involved Pete Rose or a steroid user, if you get to 3,000 hits you make it into the Hall of Fame. Honestly, Nick Markakis getting to 3,000 hits would be an absolute joy, and for those of us who enjoy those Hall of Fame arguments, it'd be so much fun. Him getting in would honestly be kind of a joke; he'd easily be the worst modern-era offensive player in the Hall of Fame. [Shortly after this was written, Harold Baines was elected to the Hall by the Veterans Committee, and a full career of Markakis would rival Baines' overall production, though Baines was unquestionably a more valuable hitter.]

Markakis can do two things well. He shows up every day, and he gets hits. He doesn't walk a ton, he's never led the league in doubles (though he's always had decent doubles power), he's only hit the 100 RBI mark twice in 14 years. He simply shows up. Other than this season (in which he leads the league in games played), he had one season, 2012, when he played 104 games. His rookie season he appeared in 147 games. Other than that those two years, he's played in at least 155 games every year.

Markakis almost certainly will not get to 3,000 hits, but he could, and just that possibility is one of the reasons why I love baseball so deeply.


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