Baltimore Orioles‘ right fielder Nick Markakis was expected to have a big year in 2010, coming off what many characterized as an “off” year in 2009, a year in which he hit .293 with 18 homers and 101 RBI’s on an Orioles team who lost 98 games.

That big year that many baseball analysts called for, however, did not happen. His average was there, as he batted .297 through 160 and 629 at-bats, but he set career lows in homers (18), and RBI’s (60).

These numbers have caused many Orioles fans who once praised the face of their franchise to call for Markakis’ head. What those people haven’t taken the time to understand, though, is why his numbers turned out to be disappointing for a middle-of-the-order guy, as well as not taking into account what he did achieve during a tough year for everyone involved in Baltimore baseball.

Looking at his low RBI numbers, most people who criticize fail to remember that leadoff man Brian Roberts appeared in only 59 games due to numerous injuries. That being said, the Orioles could not find a suitable substitute for Roberts, leading to a lack of RBI opportunities when Markakis stepped to the plate, as it’d be rare to see him bat anywhere other than second or third in the Orioles’ lineup. So when he racked up one of his 187 hits throughout the season, more times than not, there would either be no one on base, or no one in scoring position to drive in. He’d be stuck with simply moving the runner over instead of driving in the run.

Markakis has said in interviews that he was pitched away most of the time this year, and everyone knows his wheel-house is on the inside. Why try to get a good hitter out when there are hitters that aren’t as capable as him hitting behind him (not to take anything away from Luke Scott, Ty Wigginton, or Adam Jones)? He was then forced to hit what he was given, slapping singles to left or doubles in the left-center field gap. He got nothing to turn on, so he could only put 12 balls out over this past season. Adding a big bat to the Orioles’ lineup to hit behind him would most likely solve that problem, as pitchers would be more willing to pitch in the zone and attempt to get Markakis to fly out then rely on getting the big bat behind him out. Markakis would get more to drive, and his home run numbers would go back up to the 20-30 range.

The absence of Roberts at the top of the order, along with the struggles of everyone during the first two months of the season, caused Markakis to press a little, he acknowledged in an interview with the Baltimore Sun. Not only did he have to hit what he was pitched, but he had to try and get on base any way he possibly could since no one else was. That caused for him to have to settle a lot with what he was thrown and not be able to wait on his pitch.

This past year, Nick Markakis became only the third player in history to have four consecutive 43+ doubles seasons. The other two—Joe Medwick and Tris Speaker—are Hall of Famers. He increased his walk total to 73, hit .361 against left-handed pitching, raised his OBS from .347 in ’09 to .370 this past year, and committed only three errors all year in 159 games in right field. Hopefully, if the voters finally get it right, he will receive that much-deserved Gold Glove award that has seemed to evade him during his entire five-year career.

Not only is Nick Markakis the best hitter on the Orioles, he is also an outstanding fielder and an unselfish team player. He could have a 4-4 game with two homers, but if the team lost, he wouldn’t be happy with the day. The fans of Baltimore have taken him for granted, and unfairly jumped on him as soon as he shows he can have a down year, just like any other player. I suggest waiting to see if he has two or more consecutive years of low power production, even if he is more of a doubles hitter than anything, before you get on him about his performance. But provided he is given the proper threat in the middle of the order, I expect his, as well as many other young Orioles hitters, numbers to go up. And you can quote me on that.

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