For many years, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis were considered by many to be among the top defensive outfielders in the game, evidenced by the three gold gloves won by Jones and one by Markakis. Advanced defensive metrics Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) have always disagreed with that perception. Both Jones and Markakis have been rated as below average defenders at their respective positions for the last five seasons prior to this year by UZR. DRS has a slightly more positive outlook, rating both as above average in one of those five seasons. These metrics, supported by Markakis's seeming failure to catch any ball more than ten feet from him, have transformed our impression of their defense, to the point where both are regarded as average defenders at best. Lost in these, however, are their extremely valuable arms.
Jones and Markakis rank among the best outfield arms in baseball since the development of UZR in 2002 and DRS in 2003. By UZR arm rating, Jones is 5th and Markakis is 8th by the total number of runs saved with their arms since 2002. By DRS arm rating, Jones is 2nd and Markakis is 9th since 2003. Ranking first on both lists is former phenom Jeff Francoeur. Ranking third by DRS and second by UZR is Alex Gordon, who ranks first by both measures this year. By DRS, Jones has saved 38 runs with his arm and Markakis has saved 20 runs over their respective careers. Bu UZR, Jones has saved 29 runs with his arm and Markakis has saved 22 runs.
Most of Markakis's arm value came from one single season, 2008, when he rated as an elite defender, until his reemergence this season. Baseball-Reference records runner movements in five different situations, runner on first or second on a single, runner on first on a single, and runner on second or third on a fly out. The average RF held the runners 46.3% of the time in all these situations combined. So far this season, Markakis has held the runners 59% of the time, the highest among all RF with more than 50 opportunities. This seems like just a blip, as Markakis has never held runners more than 51% of the time before this season. Over his career, Markakis has held the runners in these situations at an average rate. It's the number of baserunner kills that has set his arm apart. Since 2006, his rookie season, Markakis has had the third most assists among all outfielders at 87, behind only Francoeur and Alfonso Soriano. Part of it is playing time, but Ichiro Suzuki, considered one of the best arms in RF, has only 59 assists in a similar amount of innings played since 2006.
On the other hand, Jones has been consistently excellent with his arm. He held the runners 50% of the time in the aforementioned situations compared to 45% for an average CF over his career. He has also had his fair amount of assists, registering 69 assists since his debut with the Mariners in 2006. Since 2008, when he starts getting regular playing time with the O's, Jones has recorded 62 assists, fifth among OF and first among CF, leading the runners-up B.J. Upton and Matt Kemp by 14 assists.
When we talk about the defense of Adam Jones and Nick Markakis, we focus on their lack of range and declining arm strength, especially for Markakis. What we forget is that despite their diminished effectiveness, their arms are still above-average, and they have provided great value for the O's over their careers.