Nick Markakis is off to his traditional slow start in 2014, and after a down year, questions abound about his ability to bounce back and post productive fantasy numbers. Markakis truly burst onto the fantasy scene in 2008 with a .306/.406/.491 performance in 157 games, but he never really progressed beyond that in subsequent years. Touted as a potential sleepers for a couple of seasons, Markakis became the classic case of a player that was underrated for so long that he became overrated. Now we're in the part of the cycle where for the last 2 or 3 seasons, his stock has dropped so far that he languishes on the waiver wire in the vast majority of mixed leagues and even in some AL-only leagues, despite the fact that all along he's been producing quality average on a consistent basis and double-digit home runs. Not the top-twenty outfielder that some of us thought he would be someday, but certainly a viable option at the OF4 or OF5 spot.
Now, at 30 years old, Markakis has the look of a guy that may never get off the ground following an injury. After playing through what turned out to be a torn abdominal muscle in 2011 and missing time due to a broken hamate bone the following year, Markakis struggled in 2013, hitting just 10 home runs and posting the lowest batting average in his career (.271) by a large margin (previous low: .284 in 2011, the torn abdominal season). In an offseason interview with MASN Sports, Markakis declined to explicitly blame the off-year on his injuries, but said that his strength wasn't where it needed to be, so that his poor performance was a result of bad adjustments. Supposedly, this year will be different - this is the poor man's version of the "best shape of his life" story that applies to 85% of the league in March.
There could be something to Nick getting over the injury bug, but even if there's not, it's worth noting that the 10 home runs hit last season likely represents his floor, even at age 30. The slow start to 2014 might be a continuation of a permanent decline, but it's equally as likely that a slow start is just a slow start. It's been a trend for his entire career, after all. Check out his monthly splits, courtesy of FanGraphs:
In all but one of the above categories (triple slash plus wRC+ and wOBA, both categories that weight overall offensive output), he's posted his lowest month total at the beginning of the season. Should we be worried that, for example, his current walk rate is 4.1%, way lower than his career totals? Perhaps a little bit, but history suggests he'll warm up with the weather. The same could be said of most of his rate stats - they're all at 2013 levels for now, but there's a chance that he rises above.
In other words, he's right at his floor (2013), and he could very well be on the road to improvement. This past weekend (2 hits in each of the past 3 games) that he is still capable of going on a mini-hot streak. At the very least, he's consistent, which is more than you can say for many of the outfielders with the same level of availability. Markakis' ownership is 37% in Yahoo! leagues, among more volatile guys like Grady Sizemore (42%), Alejandro de Aza (40%), and Josh Reddick (32%). Some of the outfielders in that tier have higher upside, but be careful not to dismiss Markakis' slump, however long it has been, as a permanent decline. A return to even his 2012 form (.298/.363/.471 with 13 homers) is completely within the realm of possibility, and if he doesn't get there, he won't kill your rate stats. Nick Markakis is a relatively low-risk, medium-reward guy, which is an underrated commodity in the last couple of OF spots. Chances are, you've already got a lottery ticket or two on your team. Best to balance him out with solid rate stats and potential for a bit more, which is what Markakis represents.