September 16, 2019

The Value of Markakis and Intangibles

The hot topic on Braves Twitter this week, with Nick Markakis’ return from injury, a topic that has seemingly reared its ugly head on and off since Markakis signed with the Braves, is Markakis’ value to the team.

On one side are those who seem to think Markakis’ intangibles are just about irreplaceable. That he’s as important to the team as any other player in spite of his mediocre-at-best statistics (by Fangraphs WAR is the worst regular or semi-regular outfielder on the team, only a hair better than Billy Hamilton, who has only played 18 games with the Braves). The extremist who hold this viewpoint even think his intangibles are so powerful that the Braves shouldn’t dream of platooning him or taking him out of the fifth spot in the batting order. Don’t ask me what Braves team they watched during the time Markakis was absent but it certainly didn’t look like one that lacked whatever Markakis supposedly provides by osmosis simply by being on the field regularly.

On the other side of the argument, are those who realize Markakis is a cheap player that keeps the team afloat in a corner-outfield spot, and his contract and adequate play allowed the Braves to make bigger moves elsewhere (the Josh Donaldson and Dallas Keuchel signings and the bullpen moves). Those on this side may not completely dismiss the intangibles but they don’t think Markakis’ off-field stuff automatically warrant everyday playing time and the fifth spot in the batting order.

To do my part to help settle this, let’s try a little thought experiment. Imagine the Braves had let Markakis and his intangibles walk this past offseason, and they acquired another player who was clearly superior statistically and from a talent standpoint. Say this players is not a star by any means, just clearly better than Markakis. Say there is nothing to indicate this player has been a clubhouse cancer or gotten into any trouble, but let’s say he doesn’t have Markakis’ reputation, either, when it comes to intangibles. And let’s say it’s the same contract for both players, allowing all the other roster decisions to be the exact same. The Braves still would have signed Donaldson, still would have signed Keuchel when they did, still would have made the bullpen moves at the deadline.

We can talk about intangibles being important and Markakis being one of the most important players on the team for that reason. But, gun to your head, do you really trust that having Markakis would have made the Braves better than this superior talent?

Another question: would you trade some of if not all of Markakis skills in the intangibles in exchange for him playing baseball better? Say Markakis shows up, does his job, and makes absolutely no impact at all with intangibles, but was a win or two better than what he is now. I think those now praising the intangibles would probably take a better Markakis on the field.

I don’t think we should doubt that Markakis has made and continues to make an impact with intangibles. I don’t doubt what’s reported and the quotes from players about Markakis impact in this area. What I doubt is that other players wouldn’t have stepped up and provided enough in this area, if Markakis wasn’t here. I don’t think the variance in what Markakis provides in intangibles, versus what other players would provide, is enough to consider Markakis anywhere near an irreplaceable piece.

All that said, good outfielders are costly. A guy like Michael Brantley would likely have hindered the Braves in getting Donaldson, Keuchel, and all the relief pitchers. And the Braves get more bang for the buck with all those guys plus Markakis, than Brantley and whoever else they would have settled with instead of Donaldson, Keuchel, and the relievers. So, I’m not arguing that the Braves should have acquired someone else.

The Braves need Markakis because the outfield, beyond Ronald Acuna, is pretty weak. All those guys who have been just above replacement level. But it’s good that they have a lot of outfielders who aren’t below replacement level. There’s value in that. Having Markakis adds to that group, and forces out Rafael Ortego, who is below replacement level. Markakis allows Snitker to mix and match the outfielders, putting them in spots where they can have the most success, giving the Braves the best chance to win by keeping the outfield around Acuna afloat.



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