A short while ago, I was reading an article by fellow Bleacher Report writer Cody Swartz claiming Chase Utley is an all-around player and plays the game the way it should be played. I agree wholeheartedly with that statement. Utley is the best second baseman in baseball, in my opinion. However, it angered me that in the comments section, no one included Nick Markakis for one of the best all-around player in the majors. It's absolutely ridiculous.
I realize now why no one mentioned him: he's the most underrated player in Major League Baseball. I'm sure you've all heard of Markakis. But no one gives credit where credit is due. Markakis, 25, has been the O's starting right fielder since 2006, when he slugged 16 homers and 62 RBI as a 23-year old rookie. Like Utley, Markakis plays the game the way it should be played. The outfielder goes all out, hits for power, average, plays phenomenal defense. He made two errors, slugged 20 homers in 2008, hit .306 and led the majors in outfield assists. However, Markakis is never considered to go to the All Star Game. And why not?
The Yankees, Red Sox and Angels play in the American League. Of course their sometimes less deserving players get an All Star Game bid. In 2008, Markakis batted .306 with 20 homers, 87 RBI, a .406 on base percentage (3rd in MLB), 99 walks (2nd in MLB) and 17 outfield assists (1st in MLB). You'd think a guy with accomplishments of that gratitude would at the very least make an All Star Game. Nope. Also like Utley, Markakis is dependable. Consistent. A constant threat in all phases of the game.
In his three years in the majors, Markakis has batted .299 with 59 home runs, 261 RBI and a .376 on base percentage. Yet, American League right fielders like Bobby Abreu, Ichiro Suzuki, JD Drew and Alex Rios get most of the credit throughout the league. And they should. They are great baseball players. However, to give Markakis the credit he has been given is flat out ridiculous.
In 2008, Vladimir Guerrero, Ichiro, Alex Rios and J.D. Drew had great seasons. How do they match up against Markakis?
Markakis: 20 HR's, 87 RBI's, .306 AVG, .406 OBP, 17 OF A's.
Guerrero: 27 HR's, 91 RBI's, .303 AVG, .365 OBP, 8 OF A's.
Suzuki: 6 HR's, 42 RBI's, .310 AVG, .361 OBP, 7 OF A's.
Rios: 15 HR's, 79 RBI's, .291, .337 OBP, 14 OF A's.
Abreu: 20 HR's, 100 RBI's, .296, .371 OBP, 10 OF A's.
Drew: 19 HR's, 64 RBI's, .280, .408 OBP, 6 OF A's.
Knowing who the players are, I'm sure plenty are tempted to take Vlad. He's a free swinger and obviously has more production home run and RBI wise. However, Markakis is a better all around player at this point because of the way he can get on base (.039 higher OBP than Vlad) and can have 17 outfield assists compared to just eight for Vlad.
People are obviously tempted to take Ichiro. I can not blame them. It's almost a given that Ichiro bats .300, steals 40 bags and gets 200 hits. However, you can't deny how impressive it is that Markakis isn't even a leadoff man like Ichiro and has an OBP .045 higher than the Mariners table setter.
People like Rios, too. 14 outfield assists is certainly impressive and he also hit .291 with nearly 80 RBI in 2008. However, Markakis has the advantage in every offensive and defensive category. Markakis had more homers, RBI, hit for a higher average, OBP, had a higher fielding percentage and threw out more runners. Abreu is obviously a great right fielder. He is notoriously famous for getting on base, whether it was with the Philadelphia Phillies or New York Yankees. With the Bronx Bombers in 2008, he got off to a slow start, but still managed to slug 20 homers, drive in 100, bat .296 with a .371 OBP and ten outfield assists.
However, if Abreu is notoriously famous for getting on base via the walk and Markakis drew more walks than him and had an OBP 35 points higher, doesn't it seem fair Markakis should get some credit? I think so.
That brings us to J. D. Drew, the only outfielder who had a higher OBP than the O's youngster. I think we can all agree that he is a fine outfielder. But frankly, I'm not impressed by Drew, a guy who has driven in 100 runs in a season one time in his 11-year career. What is supposed to be so awe-inspiring about that? Markakis has one year with 100 RBI as well. . . in just three seasons.
You want to know the real reason Drew had an OBP two points higher than Markakis last year? Games played. Markakis missed just four games last year, 157 total (the O's only played 161). Drew played 109, missing approximately one third of the Red Sox contests. While Markakis had more production, better defense, and is more of a constant in games, Drew made the All-Star Game in 2008 and Markakis did not. I don't get it. Am I suggesting Markakis is the best right fielder in all of baseball? Actually, yes.
He may not be the most productive offensively, but he's still an offensive superstar and is a true baseball player. He's five-tooled and over the Spring, has been working with third base coach Juan Samuel on his baserunning, so we can expect an increase in stolen bases. I don't think people realize how good Markakis is. And I'm not even at the best part yet. In college, he was a pitcher. In 2003, he had one of the greatest two-way seasons in college baseball history, going 12-0 with an ERA around one and also batted .439 with 21 homers. His hitting was just a hobby. Scouts thought his future was as a pitcher.
Just for laughs, he decided to become a professional hitter. Just for fun, he batted .283 with a .376 on base percentage in his first 205 professional at bats. His performance was even stronger in 2004 for Single A Delmarva, as he batted .299 with 11 home runs and 64 RBI. In 2005, he continued his steady improvement, batting .310 with 15 homers and 92 RBI. The next year, he was the Baltimore Orioles starting right fielder. To put it in short, he did not disappoint, batting .291 with 16 homers as a rookie. In Markakis' third career at bat, he slugged a solo homer. In late August, he slammed three home runs against the Kansas City Royals.
2007 was expected to be a fantastic year for Markakis, and it was. The right fielder hit .300 with 23 homers and 112 RBI and exhibited his great patience at the plate, great fielding and ability to impact a game in all ways. Heck, why not Nick?