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The Curious Case of Nick Markakis

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The number of lefties this team faced last season was frustrating as all hell. It's seems almost unfathomable that it would happen again.

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Nick's downturn in performance in 2009 was troubling. One partial explanation might be that in 2009 he spent alot less time batting second then in previous years and that over the course of his career he has performed significantly better there.

Another part of the explanation might be that in 2009 he faced lefties alot more than in the past, and performed worse against them than previously.

	%atbats vs Lefties	vs Lefties		vs Righties2006		24%		.286/.333/.378		.293/.356/.4702007		30%		.274/.318/.457		.311/.382/.4982008		32%		.297/.381/.461		.310/.418/.5052009		40%		.262/.305/.376		.314/.376/.507

For perspective, the league average for 2009 was 27% of at bats involved a lefty pitcher. For some reason (luck? make up of staffs in AL East?) the Orioles as a team faced lefties 35% of the time. Even beyond that (late inning pitching changes?) Nick faced lefties 40% of the time last year.

Yes, the sample size is large enough to statistically say that Nick faced lefties more often than one would expected by chance when compared against his teammates.

Two questions for this upcoming season:

(1) Can Nick improve his performance against lefties?

(2) Will Nick face lefties less often, perhaps a rate closer to the rest of the league or team?

NICK M:002_sdrool:will be fine:)

He will be in the HOF in Cooperstown someday:wedge:

Do you not like him?:confused:

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He needs to bat 2nd. Problem solved.

Unless Nick has a mental block that the vast majority of major leaguers don't, I doubt that's going to be a magic solution.

I will caution the board to avoid concluding that him batting 2nd and playing well in 2010 means the two things are connected.

His OPS against LHP improved each year from his rookie season before diving last year. It was his worst season against LHP, even worse than his rookie season.

I would think that the more LHP he faced, the better he'd become over time against LHP.

It'll be interesting to see how he does against LHP this year.

The number of PAs a player has against lefties are small enough that random chance becomes a significant factor. He may be a better hitter against lefties than he was several years ago but that's not accurately reflected in his one-year data.

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Oh, and I'd like to reiterate my belief that batting order splits have almost no predictive value going forward.

Just so I understand, you believe that R/L splits are "sticky" but not batting order splits? And this is based on the fact that on average, there is correlation from year to year on R/L splits but not batting order split (ala that link you posted in the batting order thread)?

Allow me to present a counter argument, and then you can help me see my errors.

Assume we observe large R/L splits for a particular player. One reason for those splits is that the player's true talent is different when facing righties than lefties. This difference in talent is likely not to change from season to season and thus R/L splits are "sticky". Am I right so far?

Now assume we observe large batting order splits for a particular player (I hope you will agree that we do see this in Nick's case). Some possible reasons for this are:

1. Luck/chance observation

2. Nick prefers batting second

3. The manager bats him 3rd against tough pitchers

4. He gets better pitches to hit right behind BRob

There are probably many more, but that's enough for now. We have enough data over the course of 4 seasons to say the explanation is unlikely to be due entirely to chance. So the question then is, why do you believe Nick has performed better batting second in the past? And do you expect that reason to change in the future?

For example, say you believe that Nick is a better 2nd place hitter because he hits behind BRob. That won't change in 2010, so you'd expect his splits to be "sticky".

Maybe the reason for Nick's past performance is the manager batted him 3rd against tough pitchers. And maybe with Riemold, Weiters and Jones, the manager will be less likely to do that in the future. Then you'd expect his splits not to be "sticky" since the reason underlying the difference has changed.

So whether or not any split is "sticky" for a particular player is based entirely on the reasons underlying the observations. At least in Nick's first 4 years, he has performed better against righties and batting second. The reasons you attributed to that will drive whether you believe there is any "predictive value".

Simply put, I believe we lose alot of valuable information when making generalization about average performance, particularly in cases where information about specific performers is available.

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Nick's downturn in performance in 2009 was troubling. One partial explanation might be that in 2009 he spent alot less time batting second then in previous years and that over the course of his career he has performed significantly better there.

Another part of the explanation might be that in 2009 he faced lefties alot more than in the past, and performed worse against them than previously.

	%atbats vs Lefties	vs Lefties		vs Righties2006		24%		.286/.333/.378		.293/.356/.4702007		30%		.274/.318/.457		.311/.382/.4982008		32%		.297/.381/.461		.310/.418/.5052009		40%		.262/.305/.376		.314/.376/.507

For perspective, the league average for 2009 was 27% of at bats involved a lefty pitcher. For some reason (luck? make up of staffs in AL East?) the Orioles as a team faced lefties 35% of the time. Even beyond that (late inning pitching changes?) Nick faced lefties 40% of the time last year.

Yes, the sample size is large enough to statistically say that Nick faced lefties more often than one would expected by chance when compared against his teammates.

Two questions for this upcoming season:

(1) Can Nick improve his performance against lefties?

(2) Will Nick face lefties less often, perhaps a rate closer to the rest of the league or team?

Without some serious RH production I think you can expect as many lefties this year.:cussing:

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So whether or not any split is "sticky" for a particular player is based entirely on the reasons underlying the observations. At least in Nick's first 4 years, he has performed better against righties and batting second. The reasons you attributed to that will drive whether you believe there is any "predictive value".

Simply put, I believe we lose alot of valuable information when making generalization about average performance, particularly in cases where information about specific performers is available.

From what you've written, there seems to be too many variances for batting order to be a valuable predictive statistic but that may just be the way my simple mind processed it. You started that last paragraph with "Simply put..." and then proceeded to completely lose me. Don't worry, I'll stare at it a bit longer, maybe it will click later today. :)

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Just so I understand, you believe that R/L splits are "sticky" but not batting order splits? And this is based on the fact that on average, there is correlation from year to year on R/L splits but not batting order split (ala that link you posted in the batting order thread)?

Allow me to present a counter argument, and then you can help me see my errors.

Assume we observe large R/L splits for a particular player. One reason for those splits is that the player's true talent is different when facing righties than lefties. This difference in talent is likely not to change from season to season and thus R/L splits are "sticky". Am I right so far?

Now assume we observe large batting order splits for a particular player (I hope you will agree that we do see this in Nick's case). Some possible reasons for this are:

1. Luck/chance observation

2. Nick prefers batting second

3. The manager bats him 3rd against tough pitchers

4. He gets better pitches to hit right behind BRob

There are probably many more, but that's enough for now. We have enough data over the course of 4 seasons to say the explanation is unlikely to be due entirely to chance. So the question then is, why do you believe Nick has performed better batting second in the past? And do you expect that reason to change in the future?

For example, say you believe that Nick is a better 2nd place hitter because he hits behind BRob. That won't change in 2010, so you'd expect his splits to be "sticky".

Maybe the reason for Nick's past performance is the manager batted him 3rd against tough pitchers. And maybe with Riemold, Weiters and Jones, the manager will be less likely to do that in the future. Then you'd expect his splits not to be "sticky" since the reason underlying the difference has changed.

So whether or not any split is "sticky" for a particular player is based entirely on the reasons underlying the observations. At least in Nick's first 4 years, he has performed better against righties and batting second. The reasons you attributed to that will drive whether you believe there is any "predictive value".

Simply put, I believe we lose alot of valuable information when making generalization about average performance, particularly in cases where information about specific performers is available.

I think there are several reasons, most of which can be explained by things other than the assumption that he somehow performs better in one lineup spot than another.

In 2006 he batted 8th or 9th through July. In the beginning of August he started to heat up, so being a rookie they moved him to #2, since #3 was occupied by Miguel Tejada. He continued to hit well at the #2 spot, so having no real cleanup hitter, they slid both Markakis and Tejada down a spot. Markakis hit really well the first week or so in the #3 spot, but then cooled down as he reached the end of his first 162-game schedule.

So... his splits indicate that he was great in the #2 spot, but that was largely because he was moved there in the midst of a great hot streak, and was moved to #3 just as he cooled down a little and he reached a point where he was probably fatigued.

I would be willing to bet similar things happened in other seasons. #3 has a prestige that batting 2nd doesn't, so if he slumps the manager "takes the pressure off" by sliding him up. But that's usually just as he's due to break out of a slump, or has made some adjustments.

Look at 2007: He started the year batting 3rd, started off cold. They demoted him to 2nd just as the weather started to heat up in May and he got into a groove. Then when he hit well there he was moved back to 3rd where he hit well the whole year. And how do the splits work out? He has the cold April worked into his #3 splits, but only the beginning of his hot streak at #2. I think that had he started the year hitting 2nd, then been "promoted" to third in May or June his numbers would be the same overall, but his 2/3 splits would be radically different.

My question to you is why would it make sense for batting order position to heavily influence performance? After the first time through the order you could come up any time in the inning. In the 4th or 5th inning Nick would be just as likely to be the 7th or 8th guy up as the 2nd. The only thing I can conceive of is that the Orioles emphasize a different approach for different lineup slots, but I'm skeptical since that's, well... stupid.

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What's curious is why guys have off-years from time to time. It just happens, and nobody knows why. If they knew why, then maybe they could fix it. But they don't, so they can't. When it happens, the difference in their splits re: RHP vs. LHP can balloon way up too. This is not a particularly unusual or scary kind of thing. It happens to good players all the time.

Some people are concerned because the differential in Nick's splits between RHP and LHP grew a bunch last year. In 2008, it was .80 OPS points, but last year it ballooned up to .198 points. That's an increase by a factor of almost 2.5. That might sound scary, but it really doesn't mean much. For example, in 1963 Brooks' overall OPS dropped .158 points, and his OPS+ fell more than Nick's did. This was driven in some part by the fact that the differential between Brooks' LHP and RHP splits ballooned from .66 OPS points to .162 points. So, Brooks split differential also went up by almost 2.5 times, just about the same as Nick's split differential did last year. (Brooks' increased by a factor of 2.455, and Nick's increased by a factor of 2.475. That's about as close as you can get.)

So, what happened then? Brooks splits between RHP and LHP had not been that pronounced before, and they would not be again. Overall, they got smaller. For his career, Brooks' split differential was just .041 OPS points. It's something he got better at, and he had a big improvement as he went from his season as a 26-yr-old to a 27-year-old. Brooks was a year older than Nick when he ran into it, and he fixed it. I don't see why Nick can't.

And, by the way, how did Brooks perform during the season right after he had that big splits differential? The very next season, his OPS went up by .219 OPS points, the difference between his RHP and LHP splits dropped to just .31 points, he had the highest OPS+ he ever had, and he became the O's very first AL-MVP.

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What's curious is why guys have off-years from time to time. It just happens, and nobody knows why. If they knew why, then maybe they could fix it. But they don't, so they can't. When it happens, the difference in their splits re: RHP vs. LHP can balloon way up too. This is not a particularly unusual or scary kind of thing. It happens to good players all the time.

Some people are concerned because the differential in Nick's splits between RHP and LHP grew a bunch last year. In 2008, it was .80 OPS points, but last year it ballooned up to .198 points. That's an increase by a factor of almost 2.5. That might sound scary, but it really doesn't mean much. For example, in 1963 Brooks' overall OPS dropped .158 points, and his OPS+ fell more than Nick's did. This was driven in some part by the fact that the differential between Brooks' LHP and RHP splits ballooned from .66 OPS points to .162 points. So, Brooks split differential also went up by almost 2.5 times, just about the same as Nick's split differential did last year. (Brooks' increased by a factor of 2.455, and Nick's increased by a factor of 2.475. That's about as close as you can get.)

So, what happened then? Brooks splits between RHP and LHP had not been that pronounced before, and they would not be again. Overall, they got smaller. For his career, Brooks' split differential was just .041 OPS points. It's something he got better at, and he had a big improvement as he went from his season as a 26-yr-old to a 27-year-old. Brooks was a year older than Nick when he ran into it, and he fixed it. I don't see why Nick can't.

And, by the way, how did Brooks perform during the season right after he had that big splits differential? The very next season, his OPS went up by .219 OPS points, the difference between his RHP and LHP splits dropped to just .31 points, he had the highest OPS+ he ever had, and he became the O's very first AL-MVP.

I always thought that Brooks' problems from '62 to '63 were related to the expansion of the strike zone. He was never one to take a lot of pitches so he was forced to adjust the outer limits of his hacking. For him that took a year, some guys never recovered.

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My question to you is why would it make sense for batting order position to heavily influence performance?

For the generic player? I have no idea. But for 4 years, we have observed that Nick's performance batting second has been better than when he bats anywhere else.

You highlight a good point; its likely that batting position didn't influence performance, but rather performance influences where the manager put him in the lineup. If that's true, then clearly simply batting him 2nd in all cases won't have any effect on his performance.

Then again if its because he tends to draw more walks after a Brob double and gets better pitches to hit when BRob is on first .....

What's curious is why guys have off-years from time to time. It just happens, and nobody knows why.

In some cases, I would suggest that we might know at least partially the reasons (e.g. injuries, faced lefties more than usual etc).

But your point is a good one, that we should expect some fluctuations in performance. Also, just saying that we expect everyone to peak at age 27 or whatever is over simplistic. If I have the time, I might pull out the data for Nick's top ten comparables from baseball-ref and estimate an aging curve.

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I hadn't considered the impact of all those lefties on Markakis's production, and it is certainly significant. However, it is clearly only one of the causes of his down year. For instance when you say:

I'll draw your attention again to his SLG:

	vs Righties2006	.4702007	.4982008	.5052009	.507

And then ask, did Nick have a bad year? or did he simply struggle against lefties?

we are forced to draw your attention to his OBP:

      vs RHP2006  .3562007  .3622008  .4182009  .376

He had a big regression against righties as well. We were all hoping that '08 was a sign that Nick was breaking out to a new level of performance, that he was becoming the kind of star around whom you can build a championship team. His performance in '09 raises the fear that he's just a nice player who had a fluke excellent year.

I'll continue to harp on his regression in plate discipline as a major cause of his drop off from '08 to '09, and I fear this is extremely relevant to the lineup question.

The only thing I can conceive of is that the Orioles emphasize a different approach for different lineup slots, but I'm skeptical since that's, well... stupid.

Yes, it would be stupid for the team to convince its best hitter that he needs to swing at more bad pitches because he needs to be a run producer when he bats third or fourth, yet I have a strong suspicion that's the mind set he's taking up to the plate - I wish FanGraphs had double splits, so I could compare his swing percentages for the different lineup slots. Now, even if he is making different choices about which pitches to swing at based on his spot in the order, it's not necessarily Crowley or Trembley's fault - Nick might have been making the decision based on his own image of what a #3 hitter looks like. Whatever the cause, I hope he goes back to taking the bad pitches from now on...

Edited by rlc

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I'll continue to harp on his regression in plate discipline as a major cause of his drop off from '08 to '09, and I fear this is extremely relevant to the lineup question.

I'm not sure that he had a regression in plate discipline. It looks like his true talent is probably closer to the rest of his career than his '08 level. '08 was probably a natural outlier boosted by often hitting in front of usually poor-hitting Kevin Millar and Melvin Mora. In April '08 he batted almost exclusively in front of Millar and drew 22 walks in just over 100 PAs, his best rate of any month.

Batting order protection is a myth, but it can shape how a player's underlying numbers look.

Edited by DrungoHazewood

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I always thought that Brooks' problems from '62 to '63 were related to the expansion of the strike zone. He was never one to take a lot of pitches so he was forced to adjust the outer limits of his hacking. For him that took a year, some guys never recovered.

Who knows, not me, but I don't think that explains it. From '62 to '63, the league's BA went down by 8 points, Brooks' went down by 52. The league went down by .027 OPS points, Brooks went down by a ton. It's not like Brooks showed some gradual adaptive improvement. Rather, from '63 to '64, it's like he was very suddenly a different guy. The league as a whole was just about the same, but he sure wasn't. The league's BA stayed exactly the same, Brooks' went up by 67. The league got better by .004 OPS points, Brooks got better by .219. I don't see how the strike zone explains that.

Edited by rshackelford

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I'm not sure that he had a regression in plate discipline. It looks like his true talent is probably closer to the rest of his career than his '08 level. '08 was probably a natural outlier boosted by often hitting in front of usually poor-hitting Kevin Millar and Melvin Mora. In April '08 he batted almost exclusively in front of Millar and drew 22 walks in just over 100 PAs, his best rate of any month.

You may be right, which would be a disappointment (it wouldn't be disappointing that you're right, but rather that Nick didn't make a true leap forward) but these numbers:

Year O-Swing Z-Swing  Zone2006  23.8%   65.9%  52.6%2007  23.4%   64.1%  52.3%2008  18.0%   64.2%  50.1%2009  23.0%   60.9%  48.8%

say that pitchers threw Nick fewer pitches in the strike zone last year than they did in '08. You can't blame Kevin Millar for that - well, you can, but it wouldn't make much sense. It looks like pitchers got more careful with Markakis last year, and he reacted by swinging at more bad pitches, which no doubt led to the pitchers throwing even fewer strikes...

The puzzling thing about the numbers, though, is why Nick swung at fewer good pitches than ever last year. If that means that he's being more selective within the strike zone and laying off pitches he can't do much with, it would be good news. On the other hand, if it means he's guessing more often and thus being completely fooled by more pitches, there's less reason to celebrate.

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