What has changed this season to upend that consistency, for the better? Alex Anthopoulos, the Braves’ new general manager, said the front office had analyzed Markakis’s hitting mechanics and found nothing markedly different from past years. An increased emphasis on defensive data has helped his positioning, but he has always been a strong defender. His improved hitting, Markakis said, was mainly a matter of applying an old principle from Terry Crowley, his first hitting coach with the Orioles.
“He’d always put balls out in front of the plate and say that’s where you want to try to make contact,” Markakis said. “He said Eddie Murray was the type of guy that always did that. Whenever he got into slumps and wasn’t hitting the ball the way he wanted to, he emphasized hitting the ball out in front — because if you’re on time, the correct bat angle is important, and if you hit the ball out front with a good angle, you’re more likely to do damage than hit line-drive singles or ground balls through the hole.
“I know a lot of people like to say, ‘Let the ball travel,’ and you do want to let it travel, but there comes a point in time when you need to hit it out in front of the plate. That’s where you need to do more of your damage.”
Markakis had 33 extra-base hits entering the weekend (25 doubles and eight homers), and his .482 slugging percentage was his highest in a decade. Just as significant were his totals for strikeouts and walks: 36 of each. The walk rate is in line with his recent averages, but in a season with more strikeouts than hits across the game, Markakis’s strikeout rate is the lowest of his career.
“It drives me nuts when people say strikeouts don’t matter,” he said. “If you’re striking out 150, 200 times a year, that’s 150, 200 times you’re up at the dish and absolutely gave yourself and your team zero chance.”
“Put the ball in play,” he added, “and make them make the plays.”
As a team, the N.L. East-leading Braves entered Thursday’s games with 623 strikeouts, the second-lowest total among National League teams. They follow Markakis’s example, even if he does not say much.
“Nick is not a vocal guy at all, but when he speaks, you listen, because he doesn’t speak that often,” Anthopoulos said. “He’s so well respected because of the way he carries himself and the fact that he plays every day and gives you professional, quality at-bats. You know that right field spot is locked down and taken care of.”