Is Anyone Hurtin’ for a Murton?

Matt Murton deserves another chance. Despite a .286/.352/.436 slash line over his major league career, Murton was sold to the Hanshin Tigers of the NPB in 2009. In his rookie season, Murton batted .349 and broke Ichiro Suzuki‘s record for most hits in a season. He didn’t disappoint in his sophomore follow-up, batting .311 with 13 home runs, and a .339 on-base percentage.

Major League Baseball has recently seen former castoffs return to the States and revive their once promising careers, and many expected Murton to at least test the waters this off-season. With reports of Murton returning to Japan in 2012, major league teams may have just lost the opportunity at employing the next Colby Lewis/Ryan Vogelsong.

While Murton’s performance overseas is certainly impressive, it’s tough to say how much those stats would transfer back in the United States. There would certainly be a drop-off — as talent in Japan isn’t as strong as the talent in MLB — but the disparity between the two leagues might not be as drastic as you think. According to our resident NBP guru, Patrick Newman, the skill set in Japan is somewhere between MLB and AAA. While Murton likely wouldn’t challenge for the batting title in America, his stats would translate enough to make him a useful corner outfielder.

We know this, of course, because Murton was a valuable major league outfielder before he left for Japan. In the only season in which he received significant playing time, Murton hit .297/.365/.444 en route to a 3.3 win season. By comparison, the average left fielder that season hit .274/.346/.449. The Cubs “rewarded” the 24-year-old Murton by making him a part-time player the following season. By 2008, Murton inexplicably found himself toiling away in AAA. Even though Murton was jerked between levels, and received inconsistent playing time in his career in the majors, he still managed to produce 5.9 WAR over 1058 plate appearances.

With offense down in recent seasons, Murton wouldn’t even have to perform up to his major league averages to be an effective corner outfielder in the majors. Last season, major league left fielders hit just .256/.320/.409 — numbers that Murton has shown the ability to succeed over his major league career. While Murton lost two years over in Japan — he’s just 30 years old — and not yet in the decline phase of his career. Murton also posted a 26.3 UZR over his career, so he would likely be able to provide value both in the field and at the plate.

On the open market, it seems likely that Murton would have received a few offers to continue his career in the States. He may have even made a 25-man roster — thus setting the stage for another MLB redemption story. That won’t be the case, however, as it seems likely that Murton will return to the NPB. Those awaiting Murton’s “second act” as a major-leaguer will have to be patient for at least one more season. Thirty MLB teams just lost a valuable corner outfielder to the Hanshin Tigers once again.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


12 Responses to “Is Anyone Hurtin’ for a Murton?”

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  1. Rob says:

    Murton seems like he could be a fit for the Braves assuming Prado gets traded.

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    • Chris Cwik says:

      That was the first team that came to my mind as well. It’s tough to know whether Murton returned to Japan because he’s happy there, or if he returned because he hadn’t received many offers from MLB teams.

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    • JT Grace says:

      If the Braves got Murton they could go ahead and keep Prado as a utility player.

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  2. Awesome says:

    Oddly enough the team that sold him to Japan in 09 has struggled to find OF capable of hitting LHP ever since

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    • Ballens says:

      Seriously! A Seth Smith and Matt Murton platoon seems like it would be pretty effective (although Murton should be more than a platoon guy).

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      • wahooo says:

        I remember thinking that at the time the Rockies signed him–but somehow they never gave murton the chance. I still don’t get it.

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  3. JSprech says:

    This guy looks like, at worst, a league-average outfielder with excellent plate discipline. It seems ridiculous that a team would not have space for him on their 25-man at a near league minimum salary?

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  4. mister_rob says:

    Anyone hurting for a LFer that looks like a power hitter but can go on couple month long binges of hitting nothing but ground balls?
    He did this in his good year in 06 (9 extrabase hits total in may, june, and july while playing regularly)
    He did it again the next year (no power til august)

    I guess as a spare part he is OK. but as a regular, I think teams can do better than a big slow groundball machine with bad defense

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    • JSprech says:

      “I think teams can do better than a big slow groundball machine with bad defense”

      Maybe I read Moneyball too recently but you sound like the scouts portrayed in the book who didn’t like unathletic players who could hit well.

      Matt Murton- The next Market Inefficiency.

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      • mister_rob says:

        He went 3 months straight hitting as many GIDPs as extrabase hits (9 – may june july 06)
        He spent the following year doing nothing but hitting groundballs until august
        He is not a good OFer. I know this site isnt big on standard stats, but anytime you have more career errors than assists, you probably arent very good defensively
        After the cubs dumped him he couldnt even win a job in Oaklands pathetic OF. He didnt do squat with Colorado either
        Could care less what he has done in Japan. Is Tuffy Rhodes (another ex-cub scrub) still the alltime HR champ over there?
        the market is low on him for a reason

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  5. I was really hoping Murton could be an under-the-radar high OBP pick up for Oakland who has more outfield holes than any team in MLB. If he was looking to rebuild value it is not the best of places to do so, but with rumors Oakland was going to re-sign Matsui due to the opener in Japan, Murton would at least be a more useful “just for the opener in Japan” signing.

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  6. simon says:

    Most impressively, Murton’s 311 AVG was 2nd in CL, and 339 OBP and 423 SLG were both top 10 in Central League this season because NPB changed over to a drastically deader ball across the leagues in 2011 that massively reduced Central League ERA from 4.13 (2010) to 3.06 (2011).

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