Do The Murph
No one was more skeptical of Daniel Murphy than I. Of course, I usually am slow to accept unexpected breakouts. The owner of Murphy in my dynasty league is well on his way to a last place finish and had been shopping Murphy all year. I have Jason Kipnis and Ben Zobrist so I wasn’t particularly motivated and eventually the other owner sold Murphy for Austin Meadows and Carlos Rodon, a return that I thought to be extremely strong. For months I was told how he would provide better statistics with far few strikeouts – they count in my league. But I held firm, I was convinced that the day I hypothetically acquired him would be the day he reverted back to his high average low everything else ways. However, he hasn’t and shows no signs of doing so.
The new Daniel Murphy emerged in the playoffs last year when he stroked seven home runs in 14 games on the way to earning himself a nice new contract with the Nationals. To date, he hasn’t missed a beat. The following monthly splits are from this year.
As you can see, he hasn’t even had a bad month. The question that I’m looking to investigate is, exactly what happened, because at this point it no longer looks like a fluke.
Nothing here really seems out of the ordinary. Perhaps he is swinging a fewer pitches compared to 2015 but the numbers are in line with his career norms. It appears that his approach hasn’t changed significantly.
The first signs of something different shows up in his outcomes. Beginning in 2015, Murphy started pulling the ball about 20 to 25-percent more frequently. At the same time, his fly-ball percentage has jumped from 29.4% to 36% to 42.6% over the past three seasons while his hard hit percentage has seen a similar three-year upward trend from 28% in 2014 to 38% in 2016. The later statistic gives credibility to seemingly out-of-place spike in HR/FB. Is 14 percent his new norm? I have no idea. But I am confident that it is closer to that than his career rate of 7.6 percent. The fact that he’s hitting the ball in the air with a lot more frequency with more authority while maintaining his old efficient approach makes him a strong candidate to continue to produce at an elite rate going forward.
One interesting observation I found, while looking at his spits, is the rate at which he’s been shifted. In 2015, Murphy was shifted approximately 11 percent of the time – I restricted the data to 2015 due to the relative rareness of shifting earlier in Murphy’s career. In 2016, he’s been shifted against a whopping 50 percent of the time. And yet it still doesn’t matter. You could put all four infielders on the right side of the infield and it wouldn’t matter against Murphy.
I took a look at heat maps showing his pitch selection and come up with a potential reason for his newfound success.
The heat map on the left is for Murphy’s entire career while the one of the right is for 2016 only. Now recall that he’s swinging at fewer pitches in the strike zone than at any other point in his career. Despite that, he’s been a lot more aggressive where it counts – middle-middle – to be specific as well as middle-up. He’s cut down on his swing rate on pitches on the outer regions of the plate, locations that he presumably used to take to the opposite field.
Everything in Murphy’s observable approach and outcomes seems to support a very different hitter than we’ve seen prior to October of 2015. I now regret not agreeing to trade Rafael Devers for Murphy – I ended up wasting Devers on Zobrist, Holliday, and Choo. I believe Daniel Murphy to be second only to Jose Altuve in terms of established major league second basemen. I believe in him going forward and trust his extremely polished skill set to age well.