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Is Nick Markakis' Impact on Orioles' Lineup Hidden by His Weaker Power Numbers?

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Is Nick Markakis' Impact on Orioles' Lineup Hidden by His Weaker Power Numbers?
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Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis is a vital cog in the lineup for a team coming off a 93-win campaign and a postseason appearance.

Yet his career is an enigma.

News of his impending return to the Grapefruit League should ease the minds of Baltimore fans wondering about the short- and long-term health of their right fielder.

More than likely, Markakis will be leading off for Buck Showalter's lineup on Opening Day next week.

After that, his future, both in 2013 and beyond, is anyone's guess.

As the years have passed, Markakis has developed as a major league player, but not quite how it seemed he would.

During his first three big league seasons (2006-2008), Markakis posted a .476 slugging percentage. Due to a steady rise through the farm system, those years were also his age 22-24 seasons.

Using Baseball-Reference.com's Player Index—sorting by OFs since 1901 with at least 1,800 plate appearances—Markakis posted the 30th highest slugging percentage during that age period.

In other words, he was in the company of some of the game's best sluggers.

Some names close to him on the list: Justin Upton, Jay Bruce, Andruw Jones and Matt Kemp.

Some names below Markakis on the list: Barry Bonds, Carlos Beltran, Andrew Dawson.

Unlike his peers, Markakis never developed middle-of-the-order power.

The following is a chart of his year-by-year slugging percentage, home runs and age.

Year Age HR SLG
2006 22 16 .448
2007 23 23 .485
2008 24 20 .491
2009 25 18 .453
2010 26 12 .436
2011 27 15 .406
2012 28 13 .471

It's hard to explain exactly where Markakis' power went as he aged. Ideally, he would have developed more power as he aged, grew stronger and matured as a hitter. His .306/.406/.491 slash line in '08 at the age of 24 suggested a superstar and future MVP candidate.

A quick look at Fangraphs' batted ball data suggests that he simply doesn't hit the ball in the air as often as in the past.

In 2009, over 40 percent of balls put in play by the Orioles' right fielder were fly balls. Further back, 13.1 percent of fly balls put in play during his rookie season landed over the fence for a home run.

Last season, Markakis only put 31.4 percent of batted balls in the air. His HR/FB percentage dipped to a career low 6.1 in 2010.

To put that into perspective, Jay Bruce, a young slugger comparable to Markakis during their respective age 22-24 years, puts 43.7 percent of his batted balls into the air. Of those, over 17 percent leave the park.

Don't let the power outage fool you, though.

Markakis is still an above average, if not very good, player for Baltimore. In fact, the Orioles' offense was dramatically different in 2012, depending on his availability.

Despite suffering from two separate hand injuries that landed him on the DL, Markakis posted his best slugging percentage (.471) since '08. He also led the team in on-base percentage (.363), while thriving in the leadoff spot, a job unfamiliar to him before Buck Showalter placed him there last July.

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Baltimore was 62-42 with him in the lineup, yet only 31-27 without him in 2012. Despite the continued dip in power, the Orioles scored 4.64 runs per game with him, yet only 3.94 without him.

Heading into 2013, it's clear that the Orioles have a valuable cog that must get healthy for their offense to sustain success.

He's just not the same type of cog that one would have envisioned just a few years ago.

Agree? Disagree? Comment below, follow me on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports or "Like" my Facebook page to talk all things baseball.

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