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Forget the O’s, Remember Nick Markakis and Chris Ray

As the MLB season began, the Orioles were not expected to be a good team, they were not expected to compete for the AL East or the AL Wildcard, and they weren’t supposed to have very many star players.  The O’s had starpower at the plate in Miguel Tejada and sometimes in Brian Roberts, but nobody expected another major addition to the offense.  Baltimore also had a couple of promising pitchers, such as Erik Bedard, but it was hard to predict that the O’s would have one of baseball’s best closers.  Well, the Orioles do have another star hitter, and they have an elite closer; those two are rookies Nick Markakis and Chris Ray. 

Don’t forget Nick Markakis in your Rookie of the Year discussions

Nick Markakis is quite possibly the most impressive rookie hitter in the American League.  This season, he is batting .312 with 14HR’s and 55RBI.  The 22-year-old has also played very good defense, and he has become one of the best players on the Orioles.  He has done it all in his rookie season, from hitting 3 homeruns in one game (August 22 against the Twins), to making spectacular defensive plays, to reaching base in 11 consecutive games (with a 9 game hitting streak from August 22 to August 31).  His .312 batting average is the second-best among AL East outfielders; only Manny Ramirez’s .327 is higher. 

Another impressive thing about Markakis is that he does equally well in just about any situation.  He hits .302 against southpaws (terrific for a lefty hitter) and .315 against northpaws; He hits .296 during the day and .320 at night; and he hits .333 at home and .287 on the road.  Over the last 30 days, Markakis is peaking, with a .354 batting average. 

But there are even more impressive statistics that you won’t see with the naked eye. 

  • Of Nick Markakis’ 117 hits this season, 36 have been extra-base knocks, which is an impressive percentage of 30.7
  • Markakis has struck-out only 57 times this season, compared with 34 walks.  That demonstrates a very good eye for an MLB rookie
  • His .333 batting average at home is terrific, especially since Camden Yards is considered to be a slight pitchers’ park.  His equated BA at home is nearly .350
  • Markakis also has a .372OBP and .488SLB, which adds up to a .860OPS; amazing for a rookie
  • And just the fact that a rookie can hit over .300 in the AL East division already makes him stand out

Nick Markakis could be a real difference-maker on a playoff contender right now.  Since he plays for the O’s however, his role it to help Baltimore become a playoff-caliber team within a couple of seasons.  He has slowly worked his way up to the prestigious #3 spot in Sam Perlozzo’s lineup, which should boost his statistics even more, because he’ll see better pitches to hit batting in front of Miguel Tejada.  He should finish in the top-5, if not the top-2 in AL Rookie of the Year voting, and Nick Markakis is not looking anything like a fluke.  We can expect to see plenty of .300-.320BA/.375-.400OBP/.480-.500SLG/20-25HR/85-100RBI seasons from him, in his career. 

On the pitching side, the O’s have a rookie who’s just as impressive as Markakis

Many people consider 2006 the year of the rookie pitchers (at least in the AL), but there’s a terrific young pitcher they often overlook, when they discuss those rookies.  You’ll hear Francisco Liriano, Justin Verlander, and Jonathan Papelbon in virtually every discussion of AL rookie pitchers, but the name that’s missing is Orioles’ closer Chris Ray. 

This season, Chris Ray has a 2-4 record with a 3.00ERA and 30 saves in 33 chances.  I just mentioned Jonathan Papelbon, and he has 6 blown saves, compared to just 3 for Chris Ray.  You might mention here that Papelbon also has 5 more saves than Ray, but he also has had 8 more chances; in other words, Ray, if he were pitching for Boston, could have more saves than Papelbon right now. 

Back to Chris Ray’s statistics.  The 24-year-old has done very well against both left-handed and right-handed hitters.  He’s held lefties to a .196 batting average, and righties to a .185 average.  When you consider that means only about 1 in 7.5 hitters that he faces gets a hit, it’s very impressive.  He pitches a little better on the road than at home (2.67ERA away and 3.33ERA in Baltimore).  Ray has also walked just 19 batters in 54 innings pitched; his strikeout rate (43 in 54 innings) could use a little work however, since he’s a closer.  Also, Chris Ray’s ERA over the last 30 days is a brilliant 1.13. 

If you think those numbers are great, there’s a couple of things that will impress you even more. 

  • Chris Ray’s first blown save didn’t come until June 22nd against the Florida Marlins.  That means he converted in 18 consecutive save situations, before blowing a chance. 
  • Against the AL’s elite teams (Yankees, Red Sox, Twins, White Sox, Tigers, and A’s), Ray has converted 6 of 7 chances; his one blown save came against Chicago, when he was blasted for 4 runs in one inning of work — by far his worst outing of the year. 

In other words, Chris Ray is money in clutch situations.  That’ll certainly help the Orioles, should they become playoff contenders in the near future.  Ray is a top-8 Rookie of the Year candidate, and he could get some top-5 votes as well.  He is a big part of Baltimore’s future, and he’s also the first reliable closer the O’s have had in awhile. 

Nick Markakis and Chris Ray are the best rookie duo that any AL team can boast this season, and together, they could lead the Orioles to the playoffs in a couple of seasons. 

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2 Responses to “Forget the O’s, Remember Nick Markakis and Chris Ray”

  1. Thanks for recognizing some deserving Orioles for their respective performances this season. It’s nice to have something to cheer for in Baltimore. As your posting shows, Ray and Markakis offer us Birds fans a lot of hope. Great facts, by the way.

  2. Matthew,

    As you said, they’re definitely worthy of recognition for the way they’ve played. They may not have the best stats among rookies, but a deeper look shows that they might be the rookies with the brightest future. Thanks for the comment.

    –Daniel


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