In 2007, the Texas Rangers went 75-87. They didn't have Josh Hamilton. They did have Mark Teixeira, Kenny Lofton, Sammy Sosa, Brad Wilkerson, Kevin Millwood, and Brandon McCarthy. They also had a 25-year-old David Murphy, a first round pick acquired from the Red Sox (along with Kason Gabbard and Engel Beltre) for Eric Gagne. Gee, I wonder if Boston got a little too full of themselves.
But Murphy has been mostly an afterthought in the lineup for almost anyone outside of Texas. I don't think many would realize that he has had at least 440 plate appearances for the Rangers in each of the last five seasons, or that the 31-year-old hit .304/.380/.479 last year with 15 HR and 29 doubles in 147 games. His numbers don't stand out in the classical sense, but Murphy is one of the most disciplined hitters in the Texas lineup. He's almost like an Oakland Athletic that got lost on the wrong AFC West team.
Murphy's 10.4% walk rate is almost twice as high as Adrian Beltre's, and his 14.2% strikeout rate is less than half of what Mike Napoli (30%) posted last season for Texas. Josh Hamilton was at 25.5% strikeouts and 9.4% walks.
Of course, Hamilton also posted a .292 ISO with 43 home runs and is one of the most talented hitters in baseball, but now that there's a Josh-size hole in the lineup, someone is going to have to take over. Is Murphy, ready to move into the forefront of fans and fantasy owners minds? He might need to find a rhythm against LHP first. In his career, Murphy has stepped to the plate 551 times against southpaws and hit .253/.316/.347 against them with 7 home runs. But he's been an all-star-level hitter against the righties:
.294/.356/.483 with a HR every 26.6 at-bats.
If Murphy is slotted as the most-regular number three hitter in the lineup between Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, and Adrian Beltre, Lance Berkman, there is a good possibility that his RBI and R numbers could easily become career-highs. His numbers against RHP aren't great, but they aren't terrible either and the sample size could still use some more examples. Here is a quick preview of what the lineup could look like.
Texas Rangers projected lineup (ZIPS):
1. Ian Kinsler, 2B - .266/.346/.443, 20 HR, 20 SB
2. Elvis Andrus, SS - .276/.346/.356, 3 HR, 29 SB
3. David Murphy, OF - .275/.341/.427, 13 HR, 54 RBI, 11 SB
4. Adrian Beltre, 3B - .296/.334/.516, 28 HR, 89 RBI
5. Lance Berkman, DH - .262/.365/.476, 12 HR, 39 RBI
6. Nelson Cruz, OF - .264/.320/.476, 24 HR, 82 RBI, 10 SB
7. A.J. Pierzynski, C - .277/.311/.430, 14 HR, 59 RBI
8. Mitch Moreland, 1B - .264/.321/.435, 17 HR, 64 RBI
9. Leonys Martin, OF - .270/.326/.415, 8 HR, 42 RBI, 15 SB
It's important to note where the Rangers might be getting low-balled, like if Berkman managed a mostly-full, mostly-healthy season. In 2011, Berkman hit .301/.412/.547 with 31 HR and 94 RBI and will now be hitting in Texas. There's also the lack of at least one potentially very special player, number one prospect Jurickson Profar. If Profar managed to sneak into the top of the lineup and hit the ground running, there's more R opportunities for Texas.
ZIPS currently projects quite a bit of time for Profar: 543 at-bats, .263/.331/.414, 13 HR, 60 RBI, 17 SB for the 20-year-old shortstop phenom.
Another young player with sleeper potential is Mike Olt, projected for 18 HR by ZIPS, while veteran Geovany Soto is projected for 15 HR, though with a .231 average. There's a very high boom-or-bust factor all over with the Rangers, from how Cruz will bounce back to what kind of a season Kinsler, Andrus, and Moreland are in for, not to mention the potentially-volatile rotation.
How will Colby Lewis recover from injury? Is Matt Harrison for real? How will Yu Darvish build off of a stellar finish to the season? Can Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando become rotation mainstays? As stacked as the Rangers have looked in recent years, and as good as they could be, what will happen if everything that could go wrong does go wrong?
There's that much room for the over-under on the Rangers wins and losses in 2013, probably one of the hardest-to-predict teams in baseball. That goes along with David Murphy, who might actually be the most reliable hitter in the lineup even if he can only be counted on for 15 home runs and 10 stolen bases he might put up some career numbers if he can post a .400 OBP in the middle of the order.
For a team that went from 75 wins in 2007 to back-to-back World Series in 2010 and 2011, we've come to expect the unexpected anyway. It's just a matter of predicting it as well as you possibly can, while preparing for the worst.