Free Matt Murton

The Colorado Rockies have a crowded outfield. Even after trading away Matt Holliday, they are trying to find playing time for five outfielders, plus using Ian Stewart in the OF on occasion. So, it’s not a surprise that Matt Murton wasn’t able to crack their opening day roster, but he’s doing everything in his power to hit himself out of Triple-A.

In his first 50 PAs for Colorado Springs, Murton is hitting .409/.480/.636 with six extra base hits, five walks, and just one strikeout. He’s running a .510 wOBA and hitting like Nelson Cruz did last year when he was trying to shake the AAAA player label. Unlike Cruz, though, Murton has already shown that he can hit major league pitching.

Murton is 27-year-old. He has 1,002 major league plate appearances in his career, and he’s hit .288/.354/.438 over that span. That’s a .345 wOBA, which makes him an above average hitter. We shouldn’t be terribly surprised when an above average major league hitter gets sent to the PCL in his prime and promptly destroys the league.

The question, then, is why is Murton still in Triple-A? Even coming off a bad 2007 season, CHONE projects him to be exactly league average as a hitter and +7 as a corner outfielder. That combination would make him approximately a +1.5 win player if given regular playing time.

At the least, Murton should be a right-handed platoon caddy for a team that has a LH hitting OF that struggles against same handed pitchers. Or a defensive replacement/pinch hitter in the NL. There’s no way that there are 750 better baseball players on the planet that Murton.

He’s going to get another shot in the majors. He’s too good to be written off prematurely like this. Bet on a smart organization reaping the rewards when they bring Murton back to the majors.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

39 Responses to “Free Matt Murton”

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  1. Patrick says:

    I saw Murton quite a bit last year when the A’s brought him in and wasn’t particularly impressed — I thought he was part of a rather disappointing return for Rich Harden. That said, I thought he’d hit in Coors and it’s too bad he isn’t getting a shot.

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  2. Rob H. says:

    If the Rockies management were smart, they would trade Hawpe to an AL team (his only value is as a DH or possibly a 1B at this point) for some elite prospects. He’s a disaster in the field and is hurting the Rockies. While Hawpe’s bat is nice to have in the lineup, it seems like it would be addition by subtraction in this case. Murton would make a nice replacement.

    I was shocked when the Rockies decided to trade Holliday over Hawpe…

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  3. Nathan says:

    @ Rob, the difference is that Hawpe is under Rockies control until 2010 with a 2011 option. Holliday, however, was to be a free agent after 2009, and so the Rockies traded him so that they could at least get something for him.

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  4. I feel like we do some version of this post every year for Matt Murton. Someone give this guy a real shot!

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  5. thinwhiteduke says:

    Good luck getting “elite” prospects for Hawpe. The word is out on his defensive shortcomings, and he isn’t really an elite hitter. Throw in the fact that he is soon to be on the wrong side of 30, and I don’t think too many teams would be banging down the door to acquire his services.

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  6. Matt Harms says:

    I’ve been begging for someone to give Murton regular time since his days with the Cubs. He’s a lot more serviceable that Reed Johnson.

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  7. MFG says:

    Will Murton be out of options after this season?

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  8. Chuck Hildebrandt says:

    As a Cubs season ticket holder frustrated by watching Murton languish in the minors and on the bench for too much of his tenure here, I can only conclude that it must be a clubhouse issue of some sort that keeps him from getting PT.

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  9. China Brown says:

    Yes! Every year people think Matt Murton deserves a shot at proving himself.

    This post struck me as more of an insult to Nelson Cruz, who hit more homers last year in AAA than Murton has hit cumulatively in his career.

    I always think Matt Murton is a perfect sabermetric cautionary tale. Several of his numbers portray him as someone who produces value (I’ll never understand how he puts up a positive UZR), but in reality, he’s just a guy who plays pepper with the left side of the infield. He has good command of the strike zone, that much cannot be denied. He just doesn’t hit the ball very hard when he makes contact. A career 9% infield hit rate, and 16.8% LD rate. This is like a combination of Jacque Jones and Juan Pierre, in all the wrong ways.

    Watching him track a fly ball brings back Glenallen Hill memories, from the perspective that he always looks like he’s doing it while wearing metal plates on his limbs.

    Anyway, maybe I can’t see through my own bias for Murton. Best of luck to him and his high chopper to the charging 3rd baseman.

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  10. Jacob Jackson says:

    He’s not good defensively. I don’t know about his instincts or routes to balls, but I’ve watched him enough to know that he has a poor arm and isn’t fast. Those aren’t things he can fix. So his defensive ceiling is as a passable – but not good – LFer.

    I agree with several previous commenters that his best chance at career success is starting NL left fielder, preferably in a hitters’ park.

    Murton’s a guy who makes me wish I had more readily-available data on the distance of each home run or fly ball a player hits – the type of work that Greg Rydljldfkjsls does. (That’s not his last name, but it’s an R and then a bunch of consonants). He does terrific work.

    I don’t have the data, but guys like Jack Cust and Adam Dunn hit “no doubt” home runs – they are homers in any park. I don’t think Murton’s one of those guys.

    What if Murton is a guy who hits a higher-than-average percentage of lazy, 330-370 foot, warning-track flyballs? That’s a very valuable skill at Wrigley in the summertime, because those become homeruns. They might have the same value in Colorado, due to the ball carrying. Those flyballs are worthless in Oakland – automatic outs.

    My hunch is that Murton is guy who doesn’t hit powerfully enough to ever be successful in a pitcher’s park. Oakland was a very poor fit for him. I hope he gets a shot this year to be Colorado’s every day left fielder.

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  11. Gregg says:

    I was surprised to see that Murton was rated as a good fielder, but I do think that he is at least average in the field.

    As for power, he has some, but he is a line drive hitter who doesn’t swing for the fences. I saw him hit a game winning homerun in Houston (homer friendly park? yes) that was a line drive shot that would have gone 425+ feet in the air. He kills fastballs, but struggles with the breaking balls, which is probably why he is in AAA. I was a big fan of him in Chicago, but we have obviously upgraded that position.

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  12. Lev says:

    I went to high school with Matt at Eagles Landing High School in 2000. The guy has pure talent. It really is mind-boggling that nobody will give him at least a platoon opportunity. Maybe they just don’t like his fiery red hair?

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  13. Vlad says: has HR distances for Murton, though the interface is unintuitive. First number is “standard distance”, i.e. where the ball would’ve landed in neutral atmospheric conditions at sea level with no wind if it didn’t hit anything but the ground. Number in parens is “true distance”, i.e. how far it actually went, plus a geometric estimate for the extra trajectory on ones that hit something.

    2007: 453 (454), 424 (428), 395 (397), 383 (384), 373 (419), 366 (360), 350 (369), 341 (380)
    2006: 424 (436), 418 (404), 418 (428), 417 (415), 405 (404), 404 (427), 395 (392), 384 (385), 373 (380), 373 (400), 364 (368), 360 (400), 355 (403)

    A few cheapies on there (more in ’07 than ’06), but for the most part, it looks to me like the work of someone with legitimate power.

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  14. Lark11 says:

    I’m surprised that people don’t think he’s a good defensive outfielder. I watched him play with the Cubs and the A’s and I’ve always been impressed with his defense. He made a number of very strong plays in his limited time in Oakland last year. However, I’d agree that his arm wouldn’t play in right and his range would be stretched in center, but I think he’s a tremendous leftfielder. He’s got very good range, tracks the ball well, and takes good routes to ball.

    Maybe years of watching Adam Dunn “play” leftfield have left me with low standards, but I think given a full season Murton would emerge as a top 5 defensive leftfielder. As for his offensive game, I think he could be a good #2 hitter. As mentioned, his power and line drive rate leave a bit to be desired, but I do think he brings a good approach to the plate and could be a solid hitter.

    I was hopeful that the Reds would get him to play left with Dickerson in center, but they went the Willy T for center route instead. Murton in Great American Ballpark would be intriguing. Someone should give him a legitimate shot to see what he can do. And, they should do it before he reaches retirement age.

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    • Jacob Jackson says:

      Thanks for the website and the data, Vlad. Much appreciated. The creator is exactly the guy I was looking for.

      I like the fit with the Reds, Lark, good point. The potential to be a top 5 defensive LF is high praise. Sounds like we (as a message board, anyway) are all over the map on Murton’s ability in left.

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  15. H says:

    I would like to see the Phillies acquire Murton. If nothing else, he’d be an upgrade over Eric Bruntlett and Miguel Cairo as RH pinch-hitters and a huge upgrade over Matt Stairs in the field when resting one of the starting OF’s.

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  16. cm says:

    As another Cubs season ticket holder, I must respectfully disagree with the previous poster.

    I have never understood what anyones sees in this guy. He is average at best in every aspect, especially for a corner outfielder. Very average hitter, with not a particularly good eye, no power, doesnt put the ball in play with runners on, not a great fielder, with a very average arm, very little range, and not much speed. Please, some explain what every one sees in this guy, besides every GM and manager in baseball that doesn’t play him. That’s why they get paid and we write our opinions on blogs.

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  17. Aaron S. says:

    Murton has shown enough that yes, he should get another chance to produce at the Major League level. However, the Rockies are not yet in a position where they need to make any trades to make room for him. Quite frankly, he has to continue mashing AAA pitching and hope for something unexpected to happen in Denver.

    Ryan Spilborghs has turned into a relatively reliable option for them and we’ve all heard what people think Dexter Fowler is capable of. For the time being, Brad Hawpe is not a major liability or an overpriced option. Now, should Hawpe have a strong first half that allows him to build some significant trade value and that is coupled with Murton continuing to hit AAA pitching we may have a different situation altogether. Then, Hawpe could be dealt to fill an organizational need and Murton could slide into his place.

    Don’t forget, the Rockies also have Carlos Gonzalez in AAA who many believe will turn into a solid Major League regular. The Rockies have options, many of them. Murton will need to continue this to force his way back onto the ML roster.

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  18. Jim P says:

    I had several conversations with Matt when he trained in Mesa. He is the most fan-friendly player that I have ever talked with. I also talked with the Red Sox scout who signed him who firmly believes that Matt can handle the corners and the bat extremely well. He said the Red Sox management was upset after the quicky deal for Normar was completed and they realized that Matt was gone.

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  19. OK, so Murton is tearing it up in Colorado Springs. But who would he replace? Currently, the Rockies are carrying 5 OFs on the major league club: Brad Hawpe, Dexter Fowler, Ryan Spilborghs, Seth Smith, and Ian Stewart. 4 of those 5 are the Rockies leaders in Value Runs as listed on this site, with Spilborghs the odd man out. Unfortunately for Murton, I think Spilborghs is out of options. He may just have to wait for an injury.

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  20. Chris says:

    Murton was always an above average hitter, he just never got the shot. The year the Cubs were ready to hand him LF, they out of nowhere signed Soriano. After that he wasn’t versatile enough to play CF, which they needed, so he got sent down. After that, his only shots in the big show were when Sori got injured. he’s a good player and hopefully he’ll land somewhere that will actually give him a shot.

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  21. Scott says:

    There’s no doubt the guy can hit. But he is an absolute disaster in the field, and considering he’s spent a lot of time in NL systems (Cubs, Rockies), it’s tough to say that he deserves much more than a bench spot. I don’t buy his UZRs in the bigs at all – they ring flukey to me. This guy’s D reminds me of a minor leaguer toiling in the Mariners system – Mike Morse.

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  22. Dave says:

    As a Red Sox fan who was very unhappy when Jim Hendry insisted on Murton (then ripping it up in ‘A’ ball) in the Great Nomar trade back in ’04 — I just want to say we’ll take him back.

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  23. nilodnayr says:

    Murton is one of those guys that you still love not because he will be productive, but because a few years ago there was great hope he’d be productive. The guy has prodigious HR derby power, but for some reason can’t seem to do anything but hit grounders in game action. Couple that with poor speed and poor fielding and he’s not really a player that deserves these articles anymore.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      You guys are ridiculous. All these comments about how he can’t hit and he can’t field… He has a career .345 wOBA and a +11.3 UZR. We’re talking 1,000 good plate appearances and 2,000 good innings in the outfield.

      At some point, you might all want to consider that the facts are against you, and we have plenty of evidence that your opinions are just wrong.

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      • Brian Cartwright says:

        and a MLB average corner of has a wOBA of .347…so he’s average, coming off a bad 2008.

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      • nilodnayr says:

        Not to be one of those “I watch this guy play every day guys”, but I did when he was a Cub and theres no way his true talent is nearly a +1 win OF. UZR measured him as a +4 win OF last year. There is some major skewage. Hes got less than 2000 innings measured. I am certain over a bigger sample size he will come down to average/below average.

        Also hes a career 313 BABIP off of only a 16.8% LD rate. Yes, he hits grounders like mad, so his eBABIP is going to be a bit more than LD+120, but thats the point, he doesn’t bring a lot of value as a groundball hitting, powerless, defensively blah 27 yr old corner OF.

        There definitely was reason for high expectations for Murton 04-06, but that was a long time ago and he hasn’t progressed. Now hes just a 27 yr old putting up 350 wOBAs in AAA. Sorry if thats nothing to get excited about, regardless of what hes done in the first 11 games of the season.

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  24. The A Team says:

    I’m in agreeance with H. Murton is a strong fit for the Phillies who already have one wasted bench spot with Cairo. The current backup OF’s aren’t really OF’s at all (Bruntlett, Dobbs, and Stairs) and there isn’t an heir apparent waiting in AAA with Michael Taylor the next closest prospect and career minor leaguer Jeremy Sladen the likely first plug-in. Additionally, the Phillies have that “left-handed” problem with the lineup. I find it amazing that the front office seems to believe they can get 160 games out of Werth, Victorino, and Ibanez without having a respectable backup plan in place. If Colorado’s OF logjam could reduce their trade expectations to a potential bullpen arm like Drew Carpenter then they should be all over it.

    Forward this article to Ruben Amaro Jr!

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  25. Darren says:

    The weird thing about Murton is that teams who would be likely to appreciate him have already had him and gotten rid of him. The A’s dumped him because they had a bajillion interesting OF. The Red Sox threw him into the awful Nomar trade. The guy has shown he can hit, and even if his defensive numbers are misleading (which I doubt), usually guys who can hit in the Majors get a few years to do so.

    There’s been no suggestion that he’s a jerk either, so I’m stumped.

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  26. Lark11 says:

    I agree, it really is surprising just how much disparity there is in the board’s valuation of Matt Murton.

    I can understand the concerns about his bat, but I really don’t see the questions about his defense. He’s obviously not flashy or fast, but he really covers the ground out there. Maybe he loses points in the eyes of some because he’s not a burner out there. He doesn’t necessarily look all that impressive out there at first glance, but maybe a second and third look reveals something else. Obviously, his arm isn’t great, but I agree with Dave Cameron in that the stats show that he can go get it in the field. Over the past 3 years, Murton is a +10 in the Fielding Bible Runs Saved, trailing Soriano (+42), Crawford, Harris, Johnson, Byrnes, Brown, and Diaz (+11). Of course, it’s more impressive considering that Murton hasn’t been an everyday player over the last three years, but still stacks up well. As Dave mentioned, he rates well under the UZR metric (+11.3) as well.

    Personally, I really think he’s undervalued. Teams like my Reds, the inept Pirates, or the Padres with their massive outfield could all use him. As the new metrics reveal defense to be more and more important, players like Murton have good value, especially if he can hit something like .285/.350/.450, which is close to his career slash line.

    I was really displeased when the Reds passed on him, as they need better defense and more righthanded bats.

    Anyway, my $.02.

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  27. Brant Brown says:

    The guys at Thunder Matt’s Saloon would like to thank you for drawing attention to our namesake’s plight. The bottom line is that his defense is simply average, and it has hindered him. He was roadblocked in Chicago at the corner outfield spots, which was certainly not his fault. But he can’t play CF, so he’s relegated to a corner OF/bench role. At the same time, he doesn’t have the pop that an AL team wants out of a DH, so he’s limited in both leagues. He’s a good kid, and he can hit if he has consistent plate appearances. He just doesn’t have that extra edge (speed, defense, etc.).

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  28. Wyatt Earp says:

    Matt Murton is a bad outfielder limited to being a left-fielder who hits from the right side with marginal run-production value at the big league level. He also has done little in pinch-hitting roles. Suffice to say this is not a collection of skills that has great demand at the major league level. Murton is one of those guys who will need to carve out nomadic existence moving from organization to organization and hoping for the ocassional major league cup of coffee when someone hits the DL. So in other words he is postponing movement into his real professsional calling in life, which for all I know is aspiration to be the assistant groundskeeper at Bushwood.

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  29. Angry S'Murton says:

    Here is all you need to know about Murton…

    He was sent to the Cubs in a crazy 4 team trade in 2004. He was drafted by the bosox in 2003. His first majors experience came in 2005 with the Cubs, who don’t particularly develop players.

    His debut was 2 years after he was signed, to the day.

    If the Cubs let him develop in the minors rather than plug away on the Northside as an amateur and then pine it in the dugout or take the trip to Iowa often enough to unicycle it by heart… he may have had a better shot at being more than an Oakland A’s mistake.

    Teams should be more cautious about who they take away from the Cubs because I don’t see them having a focus below the 25-man roster.

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  30. Sky says:

    Nobody’s saying Murton’s going to be a superstar. But even a league-average player is quite valuable.

    You might not like the way Murton gets things done on offense or defense, but both his minor league numbers and his major league numbers show that he produces on both sides of the ball. So to argue he’s not going to be good going forward, you have to explain how things are going to change from what’s already happened. Because what’s already happened is that Murton’s performed like a league-average MLB player.

    Best anti-Murton stuff in this thread is about his “reliance” on infield hits so far, showing his MLB numbers might be a bit overrated. Maybe someone can expand on that…

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    • nilodnayr says:

      Theres a big difference between league average player and league average left fielder. While Murton’s 350 wOBAs in AAA may translate to a league average wOBA, league average offense isn’t that valuable when you play left field. Considering at best hes an average defender and is past his development stage, theres nothing to be excited about.

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  31. Wyatt Earp says:

    Three organizations have concluded that Matt Murton isn’t anything more than a Triple A ballplayer who can ocassionally being called up to temporarily fill a gap on the bench. The Cubs, As and Rockies have come to the same conclusion that Matt Murton simply is not 25 man roster material. One organization that is a legitmate upper echelon playoff aspirational team (the Cubs), another organization that places high value on OBP (the As) and still another organization that is a lower tier team with definite job opportunity to provide emerging talent (the Rockies). Three very different organizations all taking a pass on Matt Murton is good enough for me to conclude what they have all concluded. Murton isn’t major league material.

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    • Al says:

      The Cubs drew no such conclusion of Matt Murton.

      They gave him playing time in 2006, and liked what they saw. The problem: the team as a whole was terrible and they needed more offense (and better pitching). They signed Soriano because he would definitely improve the team. Soriano is a better player than Murton, so this isn’t some indictment of Murton’s abilities. The Cubs got better for signing Soriano, but Murton was now a completely redundant set of skills: a RH LF and (debatable) defender on a team that just committed 136M to a much better RH LF and (debatable) defender. They couldn’t keep a spot on the bench for Murton when he didn’t provide anything that their starting LF didn’t have; it’s a basic principle of constructing an effective bench.

      The Cubs held Murton hostage from ’07 to ’08. He was inevitably going to get traded, it was just a matter of finding the right deal. Even though he had no long term value to the Cubs, the Cubs knew he was a useful major league player and weren’t going to GIVE him away for nothing; there was no incentive to do that. He couldn’t make THEIR 25 man roster for the reasons cited, but he was certainly good enough to make SOMEONE’S. That someone was just never willing to pay the Cubs’ asking price. It wasn’t the Cubs’ solemn duty to trade him to a team that had the perfect role for him to fill.

      I don’t know what the circumstances he’s faced in Oakland or Colorado have been, so I won’t speak for what conclusions those organizations may have drawn. I’ll just build on Sky’s line from a couple posts up, a league average player IS valuable (especially a cheap one); Murton’s problem is that his organizations have expected/wanted/needed more than a league average player to fill his spot on the roster.

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