By all accounts, the Baltimore Orioles' Nick Markakis had the baseball background to be a star. Drafted in the first round (7th overall) in 2003, he made the Orioles' Opening Day lineup in 2006. He became a breakout star and had his best season in 2008, when he was 24. The problem was that he peaked early in his career, which was followed by a slow decline, as noted in the Baseball Prospectus annual. The numbers then began to show this negative trend.
With a faltering franchise that never seemed to make the playoffs (though that changed in 2012), Markakis was the kind of guy the Orioles needed — someone who could possibly help rejuvenate the team. There was promise in his numbers. He could become the power-hitting outfielder the team needed to compete in the AL East, with good defense, to boot.
But there was an inexplicable twist, where the power numbers began to decline at age 25, which is when people would expect him to start the rise to his peak. The next three seasons, his ISO dropped from .185 to .160 to .138 to .122. There was a brief resurgence in 2012 with a .174 ISO, but that was also the shortest season he had played since his rookie year due to a hand injury.
When you look at Markakis' 2013, you might try to understand how the numbers dropped off. But because it wasn't a sudden change, it's hard to figure out what happened just by the numbers alone.
Brooks Baseball's 2013 player card on Markakis says that he has a steady approach at the plate against fastballs and breaking balls while his approach against offspeed pitches is patience. For fastballs, he has a below average likelihood to swing and miss; for breaking balls and offspeed pitches, it's exceptionally low. However, Brooks Baseball also says that he has a league average eye for fastballs, a poor eye for breaking balls, and an exceptionally poor eye for offspeed pitches. Though it may not be the only reason, it's certainly something that has contributed to his struggles. The less he can see a good pitch to hit, the less he can actually hit one out.
There's always the possibility of Markakis returning to his prime, but an attempt to reach that level at the age of 30 is easier said than done. Nelson Cruz, though two years older, is a more consistent power hitter. Cruz can be projected to be the starting DH in the lineup, as he is not particularly the best defender, but he's an option to start on days that Markakis has off. The Baseball Prospectus annual states that Markakis was headed toward this decline for a long time and the possibility of the Orioles picking up his 2015 option is low unless he makes a big turnaround. For someone who rose to the top on a steep incline, only to fall slowly, the climb back to relevance will be a feat.
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Jen Mac Ramos is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow her on twitter at @jnmcrms.