Daniel Murphy. Is this really happening?
There have been few players throughout Major League Baseball that I have hated more than Daniel Murphy over the past few years. For those of you who were around back in 2015, you’ll remember Murphy as the guy who seemingly came out of no where to absolutely destroy the Cubs in the NLCS against the Mets. [Brett: the home run against Jake Arrieta still gives me nightmares – it was the single most unlikely, BS homer in baseball that entire year, according to Statcast. I will never forget.]
The offense may have been done by that point anyway, but it sure felt like Murphy was really the one putting the Cubs away. And he’d only just broken out at age 30.
From his debut in 2008 through the 2015 regular season, Murphy had slashed just .288/.331/.424 (108 wRC+). It was a fine career, no doubt, but far from anything formidable. And yet in four NLCS matchups against the Cubs, Murphy slashed .529/.556/1.294 with 4 homers, 1 double, 6 runs, and 6 RBI. It was absolutely devastating, and I really haven’t forgiven him for it yet. Of course, he hasn’t really slowed down, either.
Murphy spun that elevated postseason performance into a three-year/$37.5M with the Nationals that ends after this season … and he hasn’t disappointed since. During his first two years as a National, Murphy slashed a combined .334/.387/.569 (146 wRC+) with 48 homers and 197 RBI. He also became a two-time Silver Slugger, two-time All-Star, and two-time MVP finalist, finishing second only to Kris Bryant in the 2016 voting. Needless to say, he’s been a very, very good signing for Washington.
Of course, 2018 has been very different. After the Cubs knocked the Nationals out of the postseason last year, Murphy had micro fracture surgery on his knee and began the season on the 60-day disabled list. He didn’t begin his Minor League rehab assignment, until the very end of May and wasn’t back in the big leagues until June 9th – though that’s where things get interesting.
Through his first eleven games, Murphy never recorded more than a single hit and was really scuffiling to make anything of himself (-20 wRC+). I’m sure if you look hard enough, you’ll find my tweeting about it in schadenfreude. But since then, things have been VERY different.
In the 167 plate appearances since his 11th game back, Murphy is slashing .340/.383/.510 (137 wRC+) with 8 doubles, 6 homers, and 25 RBI. He hardly ever makes soft contact and usually manages to hit the ball in the air or on a line, using the opposite field almost as much as the pull-side. But perhaps my favorite stat of this stretch is that Murphy has actually managed to strike out at a 6.6% clip. That’s about as low as you’ll EVER see a player go for a stretch this long and indicates that he’s really seeing the ball well and applying his contact skills to the maximum.
But that’s not all! If you give Murphy a little more time to get back into the swing of things and cut his stats off at July 9th, he’s slashing .364/.409/.551. That’s a 156 wRC+ over 127 plate appearances. He’s got even less soft contact and more hard contact during that stretch, with a strikeout rate still under 8%. Much to my (former?) chagrin, the dude can flat out hit. As an opponent, you just hated to see him step into the box.
All of which is to say, if this is the Daniel Murphy the Cubs get, his bat could be an absolutely ENORMOUS addition to a team with a ton of fire power … that’s been spinning its wheels quite a bit lately. Moreover, the ability to swap out Murphy’s bat for – if the Cubs want to go this route – Addison Russell’s is huge.
In case you’re wondering, Murphy’s defense at second base has always been poor, and it’s even worse this year after knee surgery. He’s here for his bat, and that’s it.
But to that end, I hope I’ve proven to you just how good his bat has been and can be. In terms of an August pickup, it doesn’t usually get much bigger than this.
[Brett: Because this was a big story several years ago and necessarily accompanies any acquisition of Murphy, I believe it is fair to let Michael say his peace.]
A few years ago, Daniel Murphy made some ugly comments about the “gay lifestyle,” that were big news at the time and they were rightfully poorly received. You’ve probably seen them by now. Speaking against gay people, especially from such an elevated platform, is – in my view – a horrible thing, and I *hate* that a current Chicago Cub has said such things. I don’t blame anyone for being disgusted by any of this.
I am happy to see that progress has been made, even if I’d like to see him address it further/again as a Chicago Cub (and ASAP). In the meantime, I can hope that he’s actually made a change in the way he approaches this topic, and that he realizes there’s no place his previous comments here.
If anyone wants to discuss this further or press us on this issue, feel free to jump on Twitter and @ me: @Michael_Cerami. I’m sensitive to the concerns and hope to address them as widely and openly as possible in between our analysis. Otherwise, for now, you can anticipate that we’ll stick to discussing Murphy’s baseball addition, unless other news comes up.