Zach Wilt: All-Star Game nod long overdue for Nick Markakis

A familiar face is leading the National League’s All-Star voting for outfielders: our old pal, Nick Markakis, who at 34 looks like he will finally get a very well deserved first trip to the mid-summer classic. I can’t think of anyone more overdue for the honor.

Markakis has spent 13 years in the big leagues playing in more than 1,900 games. As Orioles fans are well aware, nine of those years were spent in Baltimore, where he was drafted in the first round in 2003, played through the minor league system and eventually become a cornerstone for the Orioles in right field. One of my favorite moments from the 2014 season was seeing Markakis take in the moment on the field at Camden Yards after the Orioles clinched the American League East. I’m sure you remember it, too.

It had been a long road to get to that point and Markakis was an important part of the journey. Though he has always appeared as a soft-spoken guy in front of the camera, his teammates often credited him as a leader in the clubhouse. A leader that I think the Orioles have missed since he left as a free agent after that very season.

I don’t blame the Birds for letting Markakis walk. He was entering his age-31 season and required neck surgery to remove a bulging disk. His best years certainly seemed to be behind him and the Orioles, a team built on their high scoring offense, had seen Markakis’s power diminish over the years. A four year deal was risky, but ultimately it ended up being a worthwhile investment for the Atlanta Braves. Over the last four seasons, Markakis has been valued at 5.4 fWAR, including 2.1 fWAR this season, his highest since 2010.

From 2006-2015, Markakis locked down right field at Camden Yards. If you peeked over the out of town scoreboard, you were bound to see No. 21. He played at least 147 games in all but one of those nine seasons. Markakis and Jay Gibbons were the only two Orioles to have at least 70 plate appearances as a right fielder from 2006-2015. From 2015-2018, the Birds have had 11 players fit those categories. Needless to say, four years later, the O’s are still searching for Markakis’s replacement in right field.

Orioles right fielders matched Markakis’s wRC+ (106) in his first year with Atlanta. They outperformed it in 2016 and 2017, but are far behind his 134 wRC+ this season. The Birds right fielders have been valued at 0.1 fWAR this season, compared to Markakis’s 2.1 fWAR. In fact, 2015 was the only year in which Orioles right fielders outperformed Nick Markakis in fWAR (1.5, 1.2). That was the season that Mark Trumbo was valued at 2.1 fWAR.

While veteran Adam Jones is the undisputed leader of the clubhouse, the Birds have certainly missed the presence of Markakis. Things haven’t been the same since the club won the AL East in 2014 and some have claimed that the identity of the Orioles is different without the consistency of their veteran right fielder. It’s hard to put a value to those claims, but the team’s results certainly speak for themselves.

I couldn’t be more thrilled to see Markakis atop the leaderboards in All-Star voting this season. Like the journey to the division title, it’s been a long road for this honor and the guy deserves it. I just wish we could have seen it happen while he was wearing black and orange.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_wilt. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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