Nick Markakis’ Forgotten 2008 Season

By Connor Pignatello

While browsing Baseball Reference’s database, I encountered a strange thing. I was looking at the WAR leaders for each season. WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement, which is a statistic that measures how many wins a team gained by having a certain player instead of a replacement player, who would have a WAR of 0. The leaders were all recognizable names — MVPs, World Series Champions, Cy Young award winners, etc.

Surely the leader in WAR finished near the top in the MVP voting.  And of course he was an All-Star. And sure, maybe he even won a Silver Slugger or a Gold Glove.

Nope.

Nick Markakis led the American League In WAR with 7.4 and did not receive an MVP vote, make the All-Star team, win a Silver Slugger or take home a Gold Glove.

Markakis is now a veteran outfielder for the Atlanta Braves. But back in 2008, he was a stud for the Baltimore Orioles, and he led his team in hits, walks, batting average, and on-base percentage. Markakis had a reputable slash line of .306/.406/.491, scored 106 runs, drove in 87, clobbered 20 homers and stole 10 bases. These stats are excellent, and Markakis finished near the top of many leaderboards once the season ended.

He finished in the top ten in the AL in batting average, OPS (on-base + slugging), hits, extra base hits, and Offensive WAR. The Right Fielder also closed the year in the top five in the AL in on-base percentage, runs, doubles, and walks. Markakis was also a great asset in the field, leading AL right fielders in games played and putouts while leading all AL outfielders in outfield assists.

According to Baseball Reference, there have only been 32 seasons when a player either matched or exceeded Markakis’ WAR, Offensive WAR, Defensive WAR, batting average and on base percentage.

Markakis’ excellent stats were matched by only 32 players ever, but he was snubbed from every award.

Markakis was not selected as one of the six outfielders to compete in the All-Star game despite his achievements.

Instead, Ichiro Suzuki, Josh Hamilton, Manny Ramirez, J.D. Drew, Carlos Quentin, and Grady Sizemore were selected. None of them recorded more than 6.0 WAR, while Drew did not even record 3.0 WAR. Markakis was thoroughly robbed of an All-Star appearance.

Looking back on it, it’s an injustice that Nick Markakis had such a standout year and did not even receive a single vote for MVP. His 7.4 WAR outnumbered every other candidate, including winner Dustin Pedroia, who recorded 6.9 WAR.

Markakis had arguably a better year than anyone in the American League in 2008, and yet was not recognized at all.

Markakis was also a standout defensively, and recorded 1.7 Defensive WAR. Yet he was not appreciated for this achievement either, as Torii Hunter (-0.1 dWAR), Ichiro Suzuki (0.8 dWAR), and Grady Sizemore (0.1 dWAR) took home the outfield Gold Gloves in 2008.

Another intriguing aspect of Markakis’ season, besides being slighted from every award, was that this explosion came out of the blue. Markakis’ 7.4 WAR in 2008 soars above his career average of 2.6 and towers above his next best season, when he recorded 4.2 WAR in 2007.

Markakis’ defensive exploits in 2008 were also very surprising. He has never been a great defender, and he has only two years in his 12 year career in which he has a positive dWAR, 2008 (1.7) and 2016 (0.3). Markakis has a career dWAR of -6.5, which shows that his excellent 2008 season was an anomaly.

Markakis also logged a career high in Offensive WAR in 2008, as he achieved career highs in runs, doubles, walks, batting average, on base percentage, slugging, and OPS.

I’ll never know why Markakis could not even come close to matching his exploits from 2008. Markakis was just 24 in his breakout season, but his stats decreased as he headed toward his prime. I can’t find an explanation for his decline, as injuries weren’t a factor — Markakis has played at least 155 games in every season from 2007-2016, with the lone exception of 2012. Markakis was a bit lucky in 2008, as his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was .350, higher than his actual batting average of .306. However, his career year cannot be explained away by luck.

The lack of recognition of Markakis’ magnificent season is puzzling. He did play in one of baseball’s smallest media markets (Baltimore) for a team that stayed in the basement of the AL East, but at a certain point, efforts like his need to be noted.

Markakis never again reached the heights of his 2008 season, and I’ll always wonder two things: why he wasn’t recognized for his achievements and why he was never able to match his production again.

 

Special thanks to Baseball Reference for all of these helpful statistics