30 Rangers In 30 Days: David Murphy

The starting rotation has been covered. A.J. Pierzynski, Mitch Moreland, Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus have each been covered. All that’s left to handle is the outfield. So let’s get started with left field, shall we? Here’s David Murphy:

He was drafted as the Red Sox’ top pick in 2003 out of Baylor, and on the same day the Rangers traded Mark Teixeira for a scintillating set of high-profile prospects, they also sent Eric Gagne to the Sox for LHP Kason Gabbard, OF David Murphy, and 17 year-old super prospect Engel Beltre (who, unironically, is also an outfield candidate this spring).

It’s hard to imagine, with how spectacularly he performed in 2012, that Murphy has pretty much stood pat as the Rangers’ primary 4th outfielder since his arrival to the organization. At the same time — what with playing behind the fragility of the injury-riddled Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz — his services have been invaluable.

I try to state everything I like about a given player before I essentially resort to picking their game apart. It’s just my passive-aggressive nature, I suppose. One Rangers’ fan told me the other day, “If you’re just going to shit on all of our players, why don’t you just find a different team to root for?”

To me, although it would be nice in some ways to be as ignorant as if I were still a child, I find it hard to take most people seriously if they are filled with fluff, constantly putting their blinders on while pretending everyone on their favorite sports team is infallible. It’s one thing to cheer your guys on, but come on . . . .

The problem with David Murphy is the same problem many lefties encounter: he’s never been able to conquer same-handed pitching. In his career vs. LHP he’s produced a putrid triple slash clip of .263/.313/.361 (75 wRC+). To that, your first response might be something along the lines of “But what about what he did in 2012? He did well against lefties, therefore he’s getting better, right?”

Eh, not so much.

Yes, in 2012 he was actually slightly better (in an obviously smaller sample, of course) against lefties (129 wRC+) than he was versus righties (127 wRC+).

Logically, reverse splits are misnomers; righty bats generally do better against LHP’s, and lefty bats almost always hit RHP’s better — it all has to do with the opposing pitcher’s breaking stuff coming at your bat, rather than away from it.

So how does a phenomena like this occur? The answer, to put it simply, is that he was extremely lucky. His BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was an unfathomable .433, while the league average BABIP in 2012 was a mere .297. That means he hit almost 140 points better than the rest of the league in what is sabermetrically considered one of the “luck dragon” metrics.

That’s why it’s difficult to project what Murphy will do in 2013. If we concede that a healthy amount of luck was involved in his 4.0 fWAR success of 2012, then he will understandably drop back off into the troubled waters of replacement-level performances against southpaws, rendering him a liability in about a quarter of his expected at bat output. Understand that his defense and overall speed are not good enough to compensate for that lack of production, and you’ve got yourself a hole in a lineup starving for production, with much less room for error as they had during the Josh Hamilton era.

Let’s just put it this way: there’s a reason why the Rangers had him tucked away in a 4th OF/platoon capacity before his breakout 2012. His previous career-high in WAR was less than half (1.9 fWAR) what he produced last season (4.0 fWAR).

For what it’s worth, Bill James has him at .281/.350/.437 in 2013, while FanGraphs has him at .289/.357/.439, good for 3.2 fWAR.

If you’re asking me, which I don’t know why you would, I’m extremely conflicted. The veritable angel and demon are bickering on either of my shoulder blades. It’s annoying. On the one hand (or shoulder blade), I like David Murphy as a person; on the other, I do not particularly care for David Murphy the player. On the first hand, although my perception is unsubstantiated, I generally like the prospects of players performing in contract years; on the other, I believe he is due to fall off a cliff — production-wise — against lefties.

So I’m basically arguing internally between my head and my gut, so if you know me, it should be pretty clear which side wins out. I really like Murphy as a 4th outfielder. In an everyday role? Not so much. I’ll be curious to see how long the Rangers roll with him against left-handed pitching if he struggles as much as the stats indicate he should. Otherwise, it’ll be your typical David Murphy season. Average defense. Average base running. Solid against righties. Abysmal against lefties. I’ll predict 2.4 fWAR and leave it at that.

 

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