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Daniel Murphy: fundamentally different, newly formed power hitter?

The Washington Nationals may have gotten a massive bargain in Daniel Murphy.

David Banks/Getty Images

It's not exactly a hot take to say that Daniel Murphy's run in the 2015 postseason was one of the more improbable stretches in MLB postseason history. Murphy hit 7 home runs in 9 games between the NLDS and NLCS, and his final 6 home runs were in consecutive games. The most dingers Murphy hit at any professional level in a single season was 14, spanning 130 regular season games. Murphy halved that in 9 postseason games, and did it against the best pitching in the sport, including Clayton Kershaw (twice), Zack Greinke, Jon Lester, and Jake Arrieta. Arrieta won the NL Cy Young, and Greinke and Kershaw finished 2nd and 3rd behind him.

A small sample surge in production like this can scream fluke. But Murphy's surge in offensive production didn't just appear in the playoffs. It was brewing mechanically all season long, and came to fruition on the field significantly after August 1, ignited by mechanical adjustments made with hitting coach Kevin Long.

Mechanical Adjustments at the plate fuel an offensive surge

Mets GM Sandy Alderson told reporters after the NLDS series win against the Dodgers, "over the last 2 months, (Murphy)'s gotten to be a much better offensive player. He's driving the ball." Alderson added after the NLCS win against the Cubs, "He’s been really good for a while, but certainly not like the last six or seven games...if you go back to midseason, at least to that Atlanta game where he hit the three-run homer in the ninth inning, he’s been trying to do more at the plate than he had been in the years that I’ve known him."

Alderson credited a new approach for Murphy: "...a lot less going the other way and a lot more damage up the middle and on the pull side and I think that’s a function of his approach. He’s always been great mechanically as a hitter and he’s made some adjustments with the help of the coaching staff. That doesn’t explain the last six or seven games, but it does explain a general trend of his at the plate over the last couple of months."

Mike Puma in the Post detailed some of those changes Murphy made with hitting coach Kevin Long:

Murphy said a simple change in mechanics started the transformation.

"He sent me some video about, ‘I think you can use your legs a little more, you put your foot down, you’re late,’ " Murphy said. "I said, ‘This guy is talking my language, because I have been. I’ve spent my entire career late to the ball.’

Murphy's three major adjustments were:

-Getting his front foot down earlier as he is uncorking his swing

Here are some visuals of what Murphy was talking about above. First, getting his foot down earlier:

September 2014 (old swing): Murphy picks his foot up and puts his foot down after the ball has been released by the pitcher:

Murphy's foot is still in the air as the ball is coming towards the plate:

2015 playoffs (new swing): Murphy picks his foot up and puts his foot down before Kershaw releases the ball:

Slow motion:

Like Murphy mentioned above, starting his swing earlier by getting his foot down helps him avoid being late on the ball, where he can turn on a pitch and do damage to the pull side.

-Crouching down and generating more power from his legs in his swing

Murphy added explosion to his swing by crouching down in his stance and driving through his leg muscles from the ground up. Acording to baseballsavant.com, Murphy increased his average exit velocity on fly balls+line drives from 91.6 mph on 115 BIP before August 1 to 94.8 mph on 102 BIP after August 1 (including playoffs). Murphy was hitting fly balls and line drives with much more velocity post adjustment.

2015 playoffs: Murphy is crouched down and loaded before the ball is released:

September 2014: Murphy is more upright, and doesn't load until after the ball is released:

You can also see how Murphy appears to be more ready to drive the ball in the 2015 image against Clayton Kershaw than he does in the September 2014 image, both at similar points in the opposing pitcher's delivery. He looks coiled up and ready to unload in the 2015 image, and not so much in the 2014 image.

The images above help illustrate Alderson's observation that Murphy began doing more damage to the pull side post adjustment. Murphy is in a much better position to turn on a ball and drive it.

-Plate coverage

Murphy also moved closer to the plate in late April, which Adam Rubin wrote about:

Murphy had made a weekend adjustment. With encouragement from hitting coach Kevin Long, Murphy moved closer to the plate so pitchers could not exploit him with pitches away.

Changes lead to huge increases in isolated power (ISO) and slugging

The tangible, significant changes in Murphy's process at the plate resulted in a massive power surge once August hit, right about the time frame that Sandy Alderson referenced earlier. From April through July, his ISO and slugging were similar to his career lines. Then, an explosion of extra base hits happened, and it wasn't just because of his amazing postseason run:

Dates

ISO

Slugging

Career before 8/1/15

.129

.417

April-July 2015

.123

.393

8/1-end of reg season

.236

.533

8/1-end of postseason

.273

.578

Murphy hit to a .236 ISO and .533 slugging over his final 2 regular season months, independent of that legendary postseason. For reference, league average ISO for 2B in 2015 was .131, with slugging at .391. Murphy obliterated those numbers with his adjustments. And including all his postseason at bats, Murphy slugged .578 with a .273 ISO over his final 276 PA, beginning August 1 and ending November 1.

Of course, 275 PA is not exactly a gigantic sample size, and the league will eventually adjust to attempt to counter Murphy's new approach. The Royals appeared to begin this process in the World Series. Kevin Long said after game 2, "(Murphy) really hasn’t gotten too many pitches to hit, that is the bottom line...Pitches are off the plate, low, high. Murph walked twice today, he is doing what he needs to do. He is taking what they are giving him. They haven’t given him a whole lot."

Edison Volquez and Johnny Cueto in particular caught Murphy inside with vicious mid 90s front hip two seamers to counter Murphy's new closer to the plate stance. One look at what Volquez did:

And Cueto:

This could be a preview for how MLB will attack Murphy in 2016: not a whole lot of good pitches to hit, and a lot of inside heat. Murphy will have to re-adjust to this, and perhaps it will result in an increase in walks going forward.

It's unlikely Murphy continues to hit like one of the game's premier power hitters, but there's a very real chance Murphy has become a fundamentally different hitter, and one that is going to be significantly more productive at the plate going forward.