The Atlanta Braves announced on Monday, July 29 that Nick Markakis has now reversed his decision to opt out of the 2020 season and will instead rejoin the team. While choosing to sit out of a shortened season in a time where it feels like we are one good natural disaster away from the literal apocalypse is a more than defensible decision, the Georgia native said it just didn’t sit right with him at his press conference on Monday. And honestly, how is he going to earn his next five 1-year deals if he’s not out there playing? The question is not whether the Braves are a better team with Markakis on the roster than without him (they are). The question is, now that the team has made several transactions as a direct attempt to fill the hole that was created when he opted out, what are they going to do and where does Kakes fit in their plans?
Leaving the Big City?
If there’s anyone who has a legitimate gripe with the return of Nick Markakis, it’s Matt Adams. The burly, left-handed hitter has huge power but hasn’t been able to harness it frequently enough during games to be able to stick as a starter for most of his career, and he’s floated around the league for the past few seasons as a result. At this point, Adams has become that person you text after a breakup until you find a better option. The Braves acquired Adams in 2017 when Freddie Freeman was injured, and he hit well enough that when Freeman returned he slid over to third base for a short while until Adams regressed at the plate and was eventually ghosted back into a bench role. This time, the Braves signed Adams after his release from the Mets and have mostly slotted him into the DH role against righties, which Markakis will almost certainly put a stop to, either directly or indirectly. In reality, both are good-but-not-great options with a career wRC+ of around 115 against righties, though Adams did struggle with the Washington Nationals last season. There’s no reason to think the Braves will release Adams, but his regular playing time has likely come to an end if he remains with the Braves this season.
So long, Scotty
On July 29, the Braves added Scott Schebler to their 30-man roster, and that’s probably going to end up being a short-lived tenure. The 29 year-old Schebler is essentially just a worse version of Markakis – a poor defensive outfielder who can hit a little bit against right-handed pitching and doesn’t really do anything else particularly well. Poor Scott hasn’t even had a plate appearance yet, and he’s already about to be supplanted on the roster.
What not to do
Let’s be honest, at this stage of his career Markakis has one skill, and one skill only: he hits right-handed pitching pretty well. That doesn’t mean he’s a useless player; if you’re only going to be good at one thing, hitting right-handed pitching isn’t the worst skill to have as it allows for him to be in the starting lineup more often than not. However, absent a huge rash of injuries or illness, there is not a possible scenario in which the Braves are a better team with Nick Markakis in the lineup against a left-handed starting pitcher. Despite years of listening to Chip Caray tell us how great it is to have left-handed hitters like Markakis who “can hit left-handed pitching,” Markakis cannot, in fact, hit left-handed pitching at all. The stone-faced southerner has been a below-average hitter against left-handed pitching in six of the past seven seasons, with the only outlier being his mind-bending, universe-defying 2018 season in which he was a considerably above-average player for four months.
What’s the lineup going to look like?
Against lefties, the Braves’ lineup should look exactly the same as it would if Markakis wasn’t on the active roster. It better look exactly the same. Against righties, Brian Snitker will have the opportunity to try and hide the terrible defense of either Marcell Ozuna or Markakis in left field (I swear I will break things if Markakis plays right field) while stashing the other in the DH spot. Ultimately, there’s not that much difference between the two players defensively, and with Inciarte in center field and Acuna in right field you can get away with either one of them in left. There’s a good chance we’ll see Markakis penciled into the five-spot in the batting order that he has had an iron grip on for entirely too long, and as long that only happens against right-handed pitching, it should be fine. If everyone stays healthy, you can probably expect some variant of the following lineup against right-handed starters:
- Acuna Jr. – RF
- Albies – 2B
- Feeman – 1B
- Ozuna – LF
- Markakis – DH
- Swanson – SS
- Riley – 3B
- Inciarte – CF
- Flowers/d’Arnaud – C
How much better is this lineup than one that doesn’t feature Markakis? Probably not a lot. Markakis is certainly a welcomed addition, but in terms actually improving the team, he doesn’t move the needle very much beyond allowing for some extra depth. If anything, adding Markakis to the lineup is closer to a lateral move than a major gain. There will certainly be talk of Markakis’ clubhouse presence and “veteran leadership,” both of which are valuable, if unquantifiable, traits that will have an unknown impact during a shortened season during which players are expected to spend as little time in close quarters as possible. Braves fans should be glad to have Markakis back, be he’s unlikely to be a huge difference-maker for Atlanta.
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