Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Braves Seeking Heyward Without the All-Around Ability

According to Jon Heyman, the Atlanta Braves are considered one of the leaders to sign former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis this offseason. Obviously, there is no contract to speak of, but some projected Markakis to be in the $45M-$50M over four years range, an average salary of at least $11M.

Some went to twitter to show their agreement.

Some, like me, wondered just what in the wide world of sports is going on here? I know the Braves need an outfielder, especially if they are still in the market to trade Justin Upton, but how does a 31 year-old two-win player fit into the picture?

More, the Braves already had Markakis in a way. Before his trade last month, Jason Heyward was expected to man one of the outfield positions. Offensively, the two have rather similar numbers throughout their careers, even if Markakis has roughly twice as many games. They aren't exactly the same as Heyward walked and struck out more while Markakis hit for a higher batting average. Other numbers are much closer. ISO (.167-.145 - Heyward), wOBA (.347-.345 - Markakis), RC+ (117-112 - Heyward). Here is a comparison of the two by year in wOBA. Pay special attention to when Heyward came into the league and how similar the two are.

Heyward had one thing that Markakis severely lacks, however. All-around ability. Base-running, base-stealing, and some of the best defense in baseball - this was how Heyward provided the team value. That is how Heyward, in a season where he showed depressingly low power, was twice the player as Markakis according to fWAR. Since coming into the league, Heyward has amassed 21.4 fWAR in five seasons. Markakis, in nine seasons, has amassed 22.6. If we limit that to since Heyward joined the Braves, despite playing in what we traditionally refer to as the prime of his career (upper 20's), Markakis has been worth just 8.2 fWAR. That includes a ridiculous 2013 campaign where Markakis came to the plate 700 times and was credited with 0.0 fWAR, a mathematical improbability.

Again, that was playing in his ages 26 through 30 seasons. Therein lies the other problem with Markakis. He just turned 31 and, in a four-year contract, would be playing through his age-34 year. He's posted his three worst wOBA's in the last four years. To his credit, outside of one year, he has been very durable. The caveat to that statement is that the one year, 2012, was a season in which he fractured his hamate bone in his right wrist. This is not an uncommon injury in baseball to hitters, though. Former Brave Eric Hinske suffered it in 2003 and switch-hitter and recently very rich Pablo Sandoval has suffered it to both wrists. It shouldn't have sapped him of much power, though his ISO over the last two years are noticeably lower than the rest of his career.

Further, signing Markakis is a confusing addition for a team shedding salary and building for the future. On a two-year deal, it makes a little sense. Markakis could play out this season and the Braves, if they struggle in 2016, could use him for a deadline trade. But now? With this team? On a four year contract? It just doesn't seem like a move that a team with a MLB-experienced front office would do.

Of course, Atlanta could be blowing smoke up our butts. Keep talking to every free agent and perform your due diligence, all the while giving the home fans some rumors to distract them. Similar to Jon Lester, the Braves are just kicking the tires and no offer will be made. I can hope so because Markakis is exactly the wrong player for the Braves to make a splash on.

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