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Trend Spotting: The value of David Murphy and closing doors

Trend Spotting: The value of David Murphy and closing doors
November 21, 2013
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While pondering an information age where a $12 million dollar contract signing could be leaked via Twitter because of a daycare conversation, I began to become very pleased with the possible addition of David Murphy.

Of course a guy like Murphy won’t exactly knock your socks off; he is what many would deem to be league average but for the Indians he offers legitimate value.

Last month, when evaluating the Indians off-season priorities, the top three looked like this:

  1. Middle or back of the rotation starter to cover the exits of Jimenez and Kazmir (Although my heart still longs for the Tribe to find a way to retain Kazmir).
  2. Right Field (Most obviously a platoon scenario due to Raburn’s ability to demolish left handed pitching)
  3. Third Base (Chisenhall’s abysmal splits against left handed pitching combined with league average defense at the position, has to be seen as a position that can be improved.)

Indeed, it was relatively clear that in terms budget capacity the Indians had nothing akin to an excess of resources.

Most people projected the Indians budget to sit at around $80 million flat, which is about where they sit at this moment. Which may be where it ends up but with Castrovince’s revelation that the Tribe has been involved in bidding on starting pitching of some cost, it is a possibility that they knock on the door of $90 million.

Of course, there are the two seemingly immovable objects, I mean contracts. I myself I have pined for that trade that clears either Asdrubal Cabrera or Michael Bourn off the payroll.

They are differentiated cases; Michael Bourn looks to continue to have some legitimate value but has an escalating contract that will probably pay more than he is worth over the next three years. Dealing Bourn is a possibility but one would have to be careful to evaluate the value back.

The only positive indicator offered surrounding a reclamation of Asdrubal Cabrera is the “contract year” argument. Being that Cabrera will suddenly eliminate his immense plate discipline issues that have surfaced because it is a walk year. Or that his defense can somehow become close to league average again because of “effort”.

Have people forgotten that Cabrera entered this season in much better shape than the prior two seasons; with the front office impressed by the shape of his body. Of course athletes are usually just motivated in contract years, a true indicator of the highly competitive. If one does not sense the sarcasm, I have now made it explicit. Next time I may insert a picture of Ron Swanson to make it particularly overt.

Alas, other front offices unfortunately see what we see, an abysmal defender, whose plate discipline and contact issues have dissipated his ability to the point that he is an OBP liability.

Of course, there are a few in the Ruben Amaro mold who might be foolish enough to deal for Cabrera and assist the Indians in clearing salary but these types of GM’s are becoming dinosaurs for good reason.

I suppose what I am asserting is that, while clearing payroll is possible, it is going to be immensely challenging for the front office and cannot be relied upon as a path to improving this roster.

Which brings us back to the Murphy signing and the cautious optimism. I will begin by detailing what he can add as well as why he will bounce back in 2014.

Murphy adds two particularly important pieces to the right field situation specifically, outside of solid defensive versatility in the outfield.

The first is his platoon value with Ryan Raburn. Although Raburn was adequate against right handed pitching last season, it was an extremely limited and over his career he has struggled with an OPS of just .714 and a wRC+ of just 90.

The real point being that if Raburn receives more than 350-400 at bats you are not employing his skillset correctly.

Which is where Murphy comes in. Over the course of his career Murphy has been a stud against right handed pitching. His career slash-line against righty’s: .280/.347/.469 for an OPS of .816.

Another important piece is David Murphy’s approach. The guy is towards the top of the American League in pitches per plate appearance at 3.90 but with a low strikeout rate. Furthermore, his career walk rate of 8.7% for a player who is not reliant on power is very positive.

Thus the fit as a platoon is fairly easy to establish, his second piece of value is defensive versatility and skill. Murphy can play both left and right as well as center if you are in a pinch or have to address it for a very brief period of time.

In left and right, Murphy plays above average defense according to Ultimate Zone Rating. UZR has its imperfections but usually when considered over a three-plus year sample one can make legitimate interpretations off of the data.

Thus, his platoon production, defensive skill and versatility make for a solid skill set of a league average player. The question then becomes, what is the concern with the Murphy contract? If he is indeed league average, which is different than "replacement level", then the Indians are saving $2-3 million per.

Well there are two important and legitimate criticisms that have come to fruition in the past 24 hours.

The first criticism is that Murphy appears to be aging poorly and already in decline. Thus, let’s take a look at his career:

Season

OBP

BB%

K%

BABIP

IFH%

2008

.321

6.80%

15.40%

.295

4.80%

2009

.338

9.90%

21.50%

.311

6.30%

2010

.358

9.60%

15.10%

.324

9.00%

2011

.328

7.50%

13.90%

.299

7.00%

2012

.380

10.40%

14.20%

.333

7.10%

2013

.282

7.80%

12.40%

.227

5.50%

(IFH%:Infield Hit %, BABIP: Batting Average on Balls in Play)

While Murphy’s walk rate is solid, it is clear that due to his contact rate and frequent capacity to put balls in play, he is highly reliant on the outcomes of his contact.  Which unfortunately, was the fatal flaw of his 2013 season; his BABIP was 75 points lower than his career average and 70 points below league average.

The positive is that this appears to be more fluky than it is a function of any declining skill. One of the important indicators is generally line drive %. Murphy’s LD% was actually a 1/10% higher than his career numbers.

The only noticeable difference in his batted ball profile was an increase in infield fly ball percentage and a decrease in infield hits. Even these small shifts while having an impact aren’t large enough to create this massive BABIP decline.

It is clear that Murphy experienced an extremely unlucky season and should bounce back to at least 95-98% of his previous production.

That is dependent on the following consideration - which is the second legitimate criticism - surrounding Murphy’s move from The Ballpark at Arlington to Progressive Field.

Indeed, looking at his splits it is easy to see where this concern stems from:

Career splits:

Home: .284/.342/.470, OPS .812
Away: .266/.332/.413, OPS .746

These are certainly alarming but there are multiple factors that affect home and road splits. The first is park factor. The Rangers play in a hitter friendly venue; however, if you look at park factor by handedness (a reason why Fangraphs is like manna from the heavens) one sees that Progressive and The Ballpark in Arlington have minimal differentiation.

In fact, the only large differential in park factor for left handed hitters is the triple. This is because for left handed hitters, Progressive Field is neutral or above neutral in singles and doubles, as well as being a left handed hitter is favorable for home run production at least since 2009. Which makes the case surrounding Murphy’s reliance on Arlington for success a bit weaker. This is not to say there isn't a gap but over the past five seasons it has been a minimal one.

The second piece when looking at splits is the idea of a consistent batter’s eye. Being that having slightly better production at a home park over the course of multiple seasons is not uncommon because of comfort with picking up the baseball off a stable background.

In any case, Murphy’s home/road splits are worth monitoring but not inherently concerning at this point.

In 2014, I am projecting the following line for David Murphy: 128 Games, .269/.335/.420 with 12 home runs and 50 RBI’s. Which combined with above average defense would put him at a 1.6-2.0 WAR guy. A solid value when considering that the cost of a win will sit between $6-8 million.

When it comes to closing doors, I was referring to the possible paths the Indians can walk. With this investment, it appears that they will be limited to only adding a fifth starter via free agency.  While an offensive upgrade is possible I would expect it to occur via trade unless an incredible opportunity arises.

In effect, I believe that the Indians have only one mid-level free agent signing left, if that, and every other upgrade will probably be done by trade. This of course will be coupled with a collection of low-impact lottery tickets as with every offseason.

Furthermore, one might question why I did not include relief pitching as a need. In reality, I believe it is a need but should be addressed differently. Spending should be limited and improving a bullpen can be done in small side trades and spring training invites.

The Podcast: As a final note, for more insight on the David Murphy signing in an audio form you can check out ourCleveland Sports Insider Podcast.

Interact with Michael by email at  michael.hattery@gmail.com and on Twitter @MichaelHattery

User Comments

Hermie13
November 22, 2013 - 2:01 PM EST
I don't know if it would necessarily take a thinker like Amaro to trade for Bourn (or Cabrera).

I'm clearly not Bourn's biggest fan...however...

From 2009 thru 2013, Bourn has accumulated a 20.8 fWAR. Peak value was 6.2 in 2012, low value was 2.0 in 2013. He'll be 31 in 2014...with a 3 years and $41M (guaranteed) left on his deal.

From 2008 thru 2012, Shane Victorino accumulated a 19.5 fWAR. Peak value was 5.6 in 2011, low value was 2.9 in 2012 (walk year). He was 32 this year after he signed his 3yr/$39M deal last winter.


Not saying Bourn and Victorino are the exact same player (they aren't) but don't think you'd have to find a bad GM to be able to move Bourn's deal necessarily. Especially if guys like Choo, Ellsbury, and Granderson get the contracts many are predicting. Obviously Bourn would require a trade vs a free agent signing like Victorino was, but Victorino was "overpaid" in the eyes of many when that deal first happened, and part of the reason may have been lack of draft pick compensation. Again, Bourn would require some compensation but draft picks are more valuable now with the cap system...teams may be more willing to move a prospect than for Bourn than lose a 1st round pick for Granderson.

Just some food for thought...
Michael H.
November 22, 2013 - 1:28 PM EST
Unfortunately, my ineffective shot at Amaro was not meant to establish any sort of existing trade relationship between the Tribe and Philly. Merely to articulate the type of thinker that would trade for a player like Bourn or Cabrera. As Amaro has been a paragon of acquiring aging , albatross like contracts.
Indeed, I must concur with Hermie in saying that while Amaro may have mentioned getting younger, signing a 34 year old, declining catcher to a 3 year contract does not denote a team trying to get younger.
Hermie13
November 22, 2013 - 11:05 AM EST
I hightly doubt they deal Brown for Bourn, but would not be surprised at all if the Phillies did deal Brown this winter. He was great for a very short time then reverted back to his old ways. Honestly not sure the Indians would take Brown.

Brown's HR/FB rate and HR totals

2011: 9.4%, 5 HRs
2012: 9.8%, 5 HRs
2013, 1st half: 22.5%, 23 HRs
2013, 2nd half: 10.5%, 4 HRs

Not a fan of Bourn...but would the Indians even want Brown?? Question that should be raised.


As far as Amaro saying the team wants to get younger....sure he can say that, but when he makes deals for 35 year old OFers only a year removed from PED suspensions to 2 year deals, hard to take him seriously.
Tony
November 22, 2013 - 10:48 AM EST
We might as well end this discussion.....the Phillies are not trading Revere or Brown. They have 6 players in their everyday lineup aged 35 or older. Amaro was on MLB Network today saying how they want to get younger, and Revere and Brown are a big part of that.
Walter
November 22, 2013 - 10:33 AM EST
I don't see the Phillies trading Brown for Bourn. Brown might be lousy defensively but he did have a break out year offensively for the Phillies last year.
Willie
November 22, 2013 - 8:32 AM EST
Domonic Brown would be a good target. Of course I'd say I want young pitching in return, but maybe Kyle Kendrick and a prospect for Bourn would get a deal done. I get the feeling though the Tribe might need to take a lesser contract back unless they deal Bourn for prospects in a straight salary dump move.

I have been an advocate for trading ACab, but his deal doesn't concern me as much as Bourn's could impact this team. I could see a scenario where the Tribe tries to move both.

In other thoughts...
I have heard any of Chase Headley, David Freese and Alberto Callaspo might be available in trades. I wouldn't mind any of the three in the right deal.
Hermie13
November 22, 2013 - 8:22 AM EST
Bourn for Revere I doubt...but I wonder if you couldn't try and use Bourn to get Dominic Brown. Not saying straight up but those two being the centerpieces.

Rumors are the Phillies don't like his defense. Revere moves to LF and Bourn in CF really improves the defense. Brown was pretty bad in the 2nd half but did manage 25 HRs. Not saying this is the deal I'd want to see but think it'd make more sense at least for the Phillies than Revere for Bourn.

Think if you move Bourn you'll have to take on a contract that has some good money left. Maybe a Danks from Chicago.
Michael H
November 21, 2013 - 7:40 PM EST
Actually, it is fairly classist because I abhor the Bourgeoisie who threaten to be cost ineffective over the course of their existence in Cleveland.
Reginald
November 21, 2013 - 7:34 PM EST
Everyone is so anxious to get rid of Bourn. Racist
Hiram
November 21, 2013 - 7:14 PM EST
I would make that trade too
Hiram
November 21, 2013 - 7:07 PM EST
Walter,

Thank you
Walter
November 21, 2013 - 7:05 PM EST
Hiram

There is no rumor for bourn with Phillies. In Michael's article he was using GM Amaro might be the type GM foolish enough to take Cabrera to free up $$. I used why not trade CF straight up. Tony is right there really is no reason for the Phillies to do that since both are similar players.

Sorry if I started a false rumor. That was not my intention.
Hiram
November 21, 2013 - 6:54 PM EST
Tony,

Is this a legit rumor of Bourn for Revere??
Hiram
November 21, 2013 - 6:50 PM EST
Walter.

Where did you see this about Philly and Bourn??
Walter
November 21, 2013 - 6:24 PM EST
Any word when the Murphy signing becomes official?
Tony
November 21, 2013 - 6:18 PM EST
Yes, I would do Revere for Bourn too just like Willie said to escape the contract of Bourn. Not much different from the two. Not sure why the Phillies would do it though.
Willie
November 21, 2013 - 5:39 PM EST
I would trade for Revere, just to escape Bourn's contract...to spend it on a SP.

Jerry Crasnick saying Tribe signed Mike Zagurski LHRP to a minor league deal.
Walter
November 21, 2013 - 5:36 PM EST
With Vargas getting a 4 year deal from the Royals worth 32m, I believe Kazmir will probably get more than 2 year contract. Hindsight being 20/20 the Indians should have gambled and made the QO to him.

It was mentioned that the Phillies could bail out the Tribe regarding Bourn. Would you trade centerfielders straight up between Bourn and Revere?

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