There’s really no denying that Cubs baseman Daniel Murphy is the middle of a slump. He is, and it’s not particularly difficult to see. But I believe the depths of that slump are probably being a bit overblown, because of his otherwise dreadful defense/base running and the miserable stretch of baseball the Cubs are enduring at the exact same time. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at his slump, because while the numbers have been an issue, I’m just not sure I’m ready for some kind of dramatic change – at least, not yet.
I won’t bore you by reminding you of the back-to-back Silver Slugger awards Murphy won in 2016 and 2017, but it does feel at least worth bringing up. Yes, he’s a couple years older and a surgery removed from being one of the best hitters in baseball, but something close to that distinction was justifiable over the previous two seasons. To be fair, his numbers were actually still pretty good, even before joining the Cubs *this season.* In 205 plate appearances from June 12th (his first game back) to August 19th, Murphy slashed .300/.341/.442, which is obviously quite awesome. And if you cut out his first five games back (let’s call it … a courtesy to a player who was trying to jump back into the middle of a season cold, coming off an injury, and at the age of 33), his pre-Cubs numbers improve immensely: .324/.364/.482 (123 wRC+).
And as anyone can remember from his first two+ weeks as a Cub, Murphy was actually even better than that. During his first 16 games in blue, the second baseman slashed .303/.324/.530 with four homers, three doubles and a 127 wRC+. His walk rate was super low and his strikeout rate, while still excellent, was a bit high for him (17.6%), but he was hitting for a TON of power and simply continuing a trend of high performance at the plate that began very soon after he returned from knee surgery.
All great, right?! Well, no. Daniel Murphy’s mid-season success with the Nationals and continued success with the Cubs came to a grinding halt a distant … three games ago. I don’t want to belittle this slump, because I know defending Murphy won’t be popular, but we are really talking about a three-game “slump,” for a guy who’s otherwise slashing .318/.353/.496 (124 wRC+) on the season. Let’s not get crazy.
But yes, the slump is real, as Murphy has gone hitless in his last 12 plate appearances, with just one walk and three strikeouts to show for it. And even though these samples are all WAY too small to derive anything meaningful, I can say that a 50% line drive rate is not enough to balance out a 37.5% soft-hit rate, a 12.5% hard-hit rate, or a 50% infield pop-up rate. A .000 BABIP probably isn’t entirely fair either, but with so much weak contact (in such a small sample) what’re you gonna say? Sometimes, balls don’t find grass. It’s a slump. A small one, but a slump.
Now obviously you can probably tell I’m not as concerned about this as others have been, but that’s only because I just don’t think it’s been an issue long enough. Everybody has a bad three games every now and then, and when the numbers outside of that window are otherwise so good (as is the case here), it’s difficult for me to manufacture impatience, even as the Cubs’ lead in the NL Central continues to evaporate.
But I also more or less hate myself for defending Murphy so much, so I will concede this much: Murphy’s other skills (base running, defense, etc.) are so sufficiently bad – like terrible – that almost any slump, no matter how short, is just so acutely felt in the box score, and, ultimately, the standings. So to that end, I will say that he needs to have a shorter runaway to turn things than almost anyone else would – if he’s not hitting, he’s not offering much.
But beware of the apparently greener grass, my friends. Because less Daniel Murphy might necessarily mean more Addison Russell. And while Russell’s defense is about as good as it gets at short, the offensive drop off there is massive. Perhaps that’s not true over the past three games, but in general (including this entire season), yeah. It’s not even close.
Russell: .211/.252/.239 (33 wRC+)
Murphy: .306/.335/.500 (120 wRC+)
So for now, I’m going to be patient and hope Joe Maddon keeps the veteran in more lineups than Russell. Murphy’s defense will not improve (and even if it could, it would never come close to matching Russell), but his offense could turn around any second. And I’m not willing to let three hitless games in an otherwise solid offensive season make me turn back to the 33 wRC+ on a daily basis. At least, not yet.
Ugh, I feel so dirty for defending Daniel Murphy.