Zimmerman vs. Markakis, Straight Up (Poll Added)
Tonight at Nationals Park, the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles renew their rivalry. Feel that buzz starting to build around the region?
Me neither. It's hard to get too juiced about two last-place teams that are a combined 25 games below .500, and that have had neither the time nor the inclination to build up any sort of hatred for each other.
But let's try to stir up some debate anyway. I'll make the argument here at Baseball Insider and provide an excerpt and link at Nationals Journal, in hopes of getting some perspective from more fans.
Over the course of a few months in the early part of 2009, both the Orioles and Nationals locked up their top young players in long-term deals: six years $66.1 million for Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis, and five years $45 million for Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Despite the bottom-line difference in dollars, the contracts were structured very similarly, in that Markakis makes $47 million during the same five service-class seasons covered in Zimmerman's deal -- the difference being that sixth year in Markakis's deal (in essence, his third free-agent season) at $15 million, plus a $17.5 million option with a $2 million buyout.
The similarity in the contracts was somewhat by design; the Zimmerman camp fully acknowledged both during and after the negotiations that the Markakis deal served as its benchmark.
Here's Zimmerman a few days ago speaking about the Markakis deal: "If you look at our career numbers, they're almost exactly the same. He has more walks, so his on-base [percentage] is higher. His [batting] average is a little higher, but we're less than 10 home runs apart, I think. I might have a few more RBIs, but the doubles are almost the same. We're very similar players. As hard as it is to compare infielders and outfieldrs, we're about as close as you can get."
Zimmerman is correct. His career numbers, and those of Markakis, are eerily similar. Let's take a look:
Zimmerman... .24.... 2,125.....555....274....68....290.. .288... .347.... .475
Markakis.........25.... 2,131.....568....311....66....296.. .302... .377.... .482
An argument could be made that Markakis's 37-point edge in OPS is negated by the fact Zimmerman plays a more demanding position, and plays it better than Markakis plays his. What about Markakis's reputation as an exceptional defensive player? It isn't exactly backed up by the numbers. Looking at UZR (ultimate zone ratings) at Fangraphs -- to my mind the most complete and widely accepted measure of defense -- Zimmerman clocks in at 29.6 runs above average for his career, while Markakis comes in at only 11.1.
Before this season, Markakis's standing in a Markakis-vs.-Zimmerman debate would have been much stronger than it is today. Zimmerman not only missed about a third of the 2008 season, but also saw his OPS decline for the third straight year, while Markakis was having a borderline all-star season (.306/.406/.491 with 20 homers and 106 RBI).
But this year, Zimmerman has put some distance between himself and his nominal rival from up the Baltimore-Washington Parkway:
Player............... PA........ H...... R....... HR..... RBI..... BA...... OBP..... SLG
Zimmerman..... 193....... 61.....34...... 10....... 32..... .353.... .409..... .607
Markakis......... 182....... 52.... 36........ 7....... 35..... .327.... .401..... .541
On defense, Zimmerman has a 6.7 UZR (tops among all third basemen in the game), while Markakis actually has a negative -6.3 UZR. (By the way, I looked at the plus/minus defensive ratings provided at the subscriber-only BillJamesOnline -- another well-regarded measure of defensive performance -- and the numbers checked out: Zimmerman leads all MLB third baseman with a plus-10 rating this year, while Markakis is rated a minus-5.)
Since we're going all sabermetric this morning, let's go all the way. Here is how Zimmerman and Markakis compare for their careers using some of the most sophisticated, complex statistical measure out there:
Win Shares (BillJamesOnline): 61 (six in 2009).
Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs): 14.9 (2.8 in 2009)
Wins Above Replacement Player (BaseballProspectus): 16.3 (2.5 in 2009)
Win Shares (BillJamesOnline): 63 (eight in 2009)
Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs): 12.9 (0.9 in 2009)
Wins Above Replacement Player (BaseballProspectus): 19.8 (0.9 in 2009)
My conclusion: It's hard to argue with the evidence that Markakis has had the better career to this point, while Zimmerman (duh!) is having the better season. Who would I take straight up? Given the one-year difference in age, the gap in defensive performance, the relative difficulties of their positions and the apparent likelihood this year of a major leap in offensive performance, I'd take Zimmerman. Can't say I would have made the same call a year ago, or even six months ago.
Now it's your turn: Who do you like?
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