The early off season signings continue to roll in, this time with the Cleveland Indians landing former Ranger outfielder, David Murphy. Murphy, 32, is coming off his worst season in the majors when measured with wOBA (.289) and wRC+ (73). A consistent "double – double" HR/SB guy, with a solid batting average for a three year stretch, Murphy was only able to provide positive value in the home run, run and RBI categories last season. (Admittedly, not much value)
Fortunately for Murphy, it appears he’ll be brought in to perform as the "better half" of a platoon in Cleveland. As Rosenthal mentions, this should lead to 400-500 at bats for Murphy.
So what can fantasy owners in deeper formats except from Murphy next season? The easy answer is a return to about a league average hitter. 2012 appears to be the career year for Murphy and projecting a return to that level, at 32 years old next season, isn’t wise.
Murphy was never a big time power bat, even in his prime, but has steadily provided fantasy owners with 11-15 long balls over the previous four seasons. Murphy saw his HR/FB rate drop to below league average in 2013, after sitting close to the league average mark the prior 3 years. With the drop in HR/FB also comes a not so welcome drop in his average home run & flyball distance, which fell from 280.7 feet (150th out of 300) in 2012, to 272.3 feet (215th out of 300) in 2013. Another year older, in a new ball park and with the power trending in the wrong direction, a 10-12 home run season is about all you can project for Murphy at this point.
Murphy also disappointed his fantasy owners with the lack of stolen bases we’d all grown accustomed to over his previous 3 seasons (totals of 14, 11 and 10). Perhaps the slow decline in total bags swiped, or his declining stolen base percentage the last two seasons (mid 60%), or even his drop from a league average speed score on Fangraphs to below league average marks in 2011 and 2012, should have warned us that double digit stolen bases were unlikely. But ONE stolen base in 2013! Come on. Count on 5, if you get 10, be happy next season.
Finally, the biggest issue with Murphy last season – his dreadful batting average. Yes, after posting batting averages of .291, .275 and .304 heading into the 2013 season, owners who invested in Murphy with a "Hey at least he’ll provide a stable BA with decent counting stats" type of mentality, were rewarded with a .220 stinker. To put it simply, his luck ran out. The three seasons prior to 2013 when Murphy was averaging a .290 batting average, he was also averaging a .319 BABIP. In 2013 that figure would plummet to .227. Think about that - .319 to .227.
Let’s check under the hood real quick and then we’ll send you on your way.
A quick glance at Murphy’s batted ball profile shows us not much changed in terms of the type of balls he put in play as compared to the previous 3 or 4 seasons. Murphy’s plate discipline numbers show a player who was swinging at nearly an identical amount of pitches as compared to previous years (43.7%, 44.0% and 44.0% in 2011, 12 & 13) and making contact at the same, above league average rate (86.4% last year). Murphy’s swinging strike percentage actually improved from 2012 (7.1%) to 5.8 in 2013, well below the league average (9.3%). Nothing has changed. Instead it appears Murphy was just incredibly unlucky in terms of BABIP, especially when it came to ground balls. In 2011 and 2012, Murphy hit .267 & .286 on ground balls – that number fell to .166 last season. As I noted earlier, Murphy may be losing some strength, as shown by his declining fly ball distance and ISO, so perhaps defenders are having an easier time fielding his grounders. But that drop is just too steep to continue and will surely rebound to a degree next season.
All in all, David Murphy isn’t special by any definition of the word. In fact the 700 (literally the number 700 was the 700th word of this post – but wait, it’s a number?) words I just wrote can probably be ignored by all owners in 12 team or shallower leagues. Murphy will be your replacement level outfielder in your 12 team mixer. For AL only and 15+ team leagues, Murphy should rebound enough in the batting average and stolen base categories that he’ll provide just enough positive value across the board to be rosterable all season, even in part time play.
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