It's hard to come up with an engaging opening paragraph for this post, because it's hard to come up with a balanced way to describe Nick Markakis's 2013 season. Markakis is making superstar money ($15 million, the highest-paid Oriole) and playing a position with high offensive expectations, and there's simply no argument that he produced in any meaningful way in 2013. I was a Markakis apologist halfway through the year (and I might still be overall), but I can't defend how 2013 ended up.
2013 was a low watermark for Nick Markakis. You could go to the eye-test and say that Nick Markakis was a highly-paid corner outfielder who hit like a replacement-level middle infielder (and you'd be right). Or you could just jump right to the stats and easily point out that Markakis set career lows in BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, and WAR. Even with a full season (700 PAs), he set career lows in counting stats like home runs, triples and doubles, even lower than some of his partial seasons.
And it wasn't some season where you can say that Nick just got unlucky. His ground-ball percentage (46.6%) was the highest of his career since his debut. He swung at more pitches outside of the strike zone (28.6%) than he ever has before. His BABIP was unusually low, which might normally indicate some rough luck, but it correlates pretty well with his brutal ground ball percentage. His infield fly ball percentage was a disgusting 14.9% -- and even though that stat often does involve some luck, again, it correlates well with an overall story of making tremendously weak contact all year long.
So it's not exactly all sunshine and rainbows for Nick Markakis right now. His overall situation in 2014 won't change that much. He'll still be the Orioles' highest-paid player. He'll still be the everyday right fielder. His 2013 wasn't just unlucky; it was bad. Is there any reason for hope? Well, for starters, Nick's 2012 ended with a broken hamate bone courtesy of CC Sabathia. Recent baseball history is littered with anecdotal evidence of hitters having disappointing offensive runs on their first year back from a wrist injury (Jose Bautista, Will Middlebrooks, Justin Morneau). Many of these hitters have reverted back toward their historical norms with another full offseason of rest and rehab.
Even reverting back to the norm, though, Nick Markakis isn't a $15 million ballplayer. The Orioles hold a $2 million buyout for Markakis after 2014, with the option to pay $17.5 million for his services in 2015. They're unlikely to do so, of course, so in reality Orioles fans just have to hope for a good bounceback campaign in 2014. His contract situation with the team will be very interesting after that. There's little doubt that Markakis is a clubhouse leader and is still beloved by a large portion of the Orioles fanbase. As a homegrown player, the pressure to re-sign Markakis might be high, even though he'll be 31 when the 2015 season kicks off and the team seems to be trying to stay young. And if Markakis does go back to form in 2014, he may command more big bucks, or a lengthy deal that might be a mistake for any team in its later years.
So that's a lot of negativity -- Markakis was a real pain point on the roster in this letdown of a year, and he might get better again, but if he does, we might lose him. I'm not always this fatalistic. Probably the best thing for Orioles fans to do is hope for a 2014 bounceback, a productive Markakis hitting among Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Chris Davis, and let the rest take care of itself from there.