Murphy’s Law

Murphy
David Murphy has avoided the crosshairs of controversy during much of his tenure as a Texas Ranger mostly because of his clean living and the role he has had as the fourth outfielder. But, now as the 2013 season looms David Murphy is a starting outfielder and that has allowed the statistical scribes an opportunity to analyze and churn out metrical theories as to why Murphy will fail in 2013. 
Is this fair to the left-handed hitting Klein product? Can a career platoon player who has struggled versus lefties flourish suddenly in year 8 of a major league career? David Murphy in 2012 put up numbers that warranted an opportunity to be an everyday player in 2013, but the chances of those numbers holding up this year is the burning question I want to examine.

Murphy’s career high in plate appearances came in 2012 with 521 where he built a career high slash line of .304/.380/.479 (in seasons with at least 100 PA).  David Murphy was 5th among all qualified outfielders in OBP in 2012 trailing only McCutchen (PIT), Trout (LAA), Braun (MIL), and Fowler (COL). Murphy was also 6th among those same qualified outfielders in batting average for 2012 and only trailed Josh Hamilton for the team lead among outfielders in slugging percentage as well. It’s fair to say that David Murphy had a career year in 2012 and will struggle to replicate those numbers in 2013. The first question I wanted to tackle was just how good was Murphy’s 2012 compared to his previous bests in the basic offensive categories. His season last year made me think of Mike Napoli’s monster season in 2011, in which Napoli shattered nearly all of his previous career highs at the plate. Looking at the chart below, you can see the increase both Napoli and Murphy had in their offensive categories (AVG/OBP/SLG) compared to their previous best (with at least 400 PA).

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What does this tell us? Well, I think the most important aspect of this comparison is that Murphy’s 2012 didn’t see the drastic spike in production that Nap did in 2011. This is a good thing for Murphy because maybe that shows an increase in his value and development as a player rather than a one year spike and followed by immediate regression. Mike Napoli shattered his previous career highs at clips that nearly guaranteed a serious regression in 2012 (which we all know did occur). David Murphy did in fact increase his career bests in all three categories, but not at a pace that would make you believe a similar type of regression as Napoli is waiting for Murphy in 2013.

Next I think it’s important to compare Murphy’s 2012 season to his previous career averages from 2008-2011 to really get a clearer picture of how his past season compares to his “normal” seasons. Using the same offensive categories the chart below shows the difference between his career averages from ’08-’11 to the 2012 season.

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And herein lies one major concern for David Murphy fans. These increases in performance are closer to those crazy numbers that Napoli put up in 2011 than most fans would want to see. David Murphy in 2012 did in fact have that obvious career year that we referenced earlier, but his numbers spiked so much that there is a justified concern that 2013 will see him slide backwards at the plate. The positives to take from these numbers are since Murphy had a career high in plate appearances, could this be more what we should expect from him if he becomes an everyday player? These are all fairly easy and obvious conclusions made from a quick glance at basic stat sheets, but what can we discern from digging a little deeper to find out why Murphy experienced these increases?

The first place we have to look is his performance versus left-handed pitching. David Murphy has been used as a platoon player during his career at Texas, but this past year he found himself in the everyday lineup more than ever during his major league career (hence the career highs in PA). In his career versus lefties Murphy has hit .266 in 595 PA’s with 113 strikeouts and only 38 walks. He also has a career 19.0 K% and a 6.4 BB% versus lefties. Below is a table showing those numbers compared to the same categories versus righties. 

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I don’t think there is anything alarming or surprising about these splits considering David Murphy’s documented struggles against lefties during his career. But, how do these career numbers compare to his 2012 and did that have a direct effect on his surprising season?

The shocking discovery I found in researching for this article was that despite the narrative we heard in 2012 that Murphy had finally figured out lefties; he had his lowest number of plate appearances since 2007 versus them. For the first time since 2007, David Murphy did not have more than 100 PA against left-handed pitchers in 2012. In these fewer plate appearances though, he did well and that is what warranted the speculation that he had finally figured them out. Let’s look at the same numbers from the previous table for the 2012 season:

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So, we finally found the answer to David Murphy’s excellent 2012 season. A staggering increase of .081 points in batting average versus lefties was the lifeline behind his surge at the plate compared to his previous seasons. The strikeout and walk percentages are on par to his career averages, so where do we find the answer to his success?

BABIP is a slippery slope in the metric world. For pitchers, it’s a measurement of luck. For hitters, it is essentially a measure of luck, but it should also be considered that it can give a decent measurement of their ability to square up a ball and hit it with authority, and also places decent value on a player’s speed. But to reward a hitter for ball placement is the part I have a hard time with because any hitter will tell you they will hit a ball where it’s pitched, but if it was as easy as placing the ball in the gap someone would have figured that ability out a long time ago. Because the luck factor is still a major component in BABIP from the hitter’s perspective, this stat tends to regress from year to year into an established mean. David Murphy’s career BABIP versus lefties is .320, but in 2012 his BABIP was a mind blowing .433. An increase of over .100 points will surely result in a regression in 2013 and see his average fall back into place from what it has normally been versus left-handed pitching.

Bill James projections for Murphy in 2013 have him back to his norm with a projected slash line of .281/.350/.437. This falls in line with a normal regression after having such a jump in production versus pitching that he has normally been below average against. If Murphy is in fact the everyday left fielder this season, Rangers fans must hope that he brings some of that BABIP “luck” with him when he faces lefties next season or we could be faced with a season of what if’s with the departure of Hamilton and the missed opportunities in acquiring an outfielder this off-season.

Jeff Johnson is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at Jeff.Johnson@ShutDownInning.com or on Twitter @Houstonhog

Jeff Johnson

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