Can Nick Markakis regain his 100-RBI form?

When discussing Nick Markakis and what he might be able to do on offense this year, many fans now seem to be of the opinion that Markakis is no longer considered a middle-of-the-order hitter.

Those fans have some stats to back up that opinion. His slugging percentage has dropped every year from 2008 on, from .491 to .453 to .436 to last year’s .406. His 31 doubles in 2011 is much fewer than recent seasons when he had 48, 45 and 45. His extra-base hits total has dropped the last few years, from 69 in 2008 to 65, 60 and then 47 last year. His .756 OPS last season represents a career low.

It all started with a terrible start last season. Through the end of May, Markakis was batting just .249 with only four doubles, four homers, 17 RBIs and a .640 OPS.

Fans have been critical of Markakis because, at a time when his salary is increasing, his run production is decreasing, but he remains one of the more reliable players on the team in terms of answering the bell. He did play in 160 games last season for the fourth time in the last five years and the one season that he came up short of that he played 157 games in 2008. He won his first Gold Glove after last season.

But why has his RBI production fallen off? He twice has knocked in 100 runs but had just 60 RBIs in 2010 and 73 last year.

One reason is that he has had fewer opportunities to drive in runs. When Markakis drove in 112 runs in 2007 he had 176 at-bats with runners in scoring position. When he knocked in 101 in 2009 he had 167 at-bats with RISP. Last year he had 138 at-bats with RISP.

In analyzing the stats, he just didn’t hit as well in those situations also, in addition to getting fewer chances to drive in runs. Here are his batting averages and OPS totals with runners in scoring position in the two seasons where he drove in over 100 runs and last year:

2007 - Avg. of .290 and .856 OPS with RISP and 112 RBIs.
2009 - Avg. of .299 and .878 OPS with RISP and 101 RBIs.
2011 - Avg. of .268 and .718 OPS with RISP and 73 RBIs.

So not only was Markakis getting fewer chances to drive in runs last year but he did less with them than in his 100-RBI years. Also he had 20 extra-base hits with RISP in 2007, 25 in 2009 but just eight last season.

He also has transitioned more to batting second in the order and not third. He had 80 percent of his 2007 at-bats in the third spot and 63 percent in 2009. Last year he had just 31 percent of his at-bats batting third.

That’s a lot of numbers to throw at you and if I decide there will be a quiz later, I’ll make it open book. Or at least open PC.

What is your take?: All this leads to two key questions for you today. Do you think Markakis is now more suited to bat second than third? Do you think he can increase his RBI and extra-base production in 2012?

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