Matt Murton has a career line of .286/.352/.436 in 1,058 MLB plate appearances. That’s a 105 wRC+, and by all accounts, he’s a legitimate defender in LF, although likely not quite as good as his +21 UZR/150 suggests. In over 400 plate appearances at AAA Colorado Springs, Murton had a park and luck adjusted .322/.392/.492 line. Take a player like that, especially platooned against left handed batters, and you have a major league average player, if not better.
Matt Murton is currently playing for the Hanshin Tigers of the highest Japanese professional league, the NPB. His contract this year calls for a $1 million salary, with a $500,000 signing bonus.
Unsurprisingly, Murton is absolutely raking. Through 262 plate appearances, Murton ranks 12th in the entire league with an .893 OPS, with an overall line of .343/.393/.500. Murton’s 8 HRs and 12 doubles would put him on a pace for 18 HRs and 27 2Bs in a 600 plate appearance season. As our own Patrick Newman stated in one of his posts answering questions about Asian baseball, it is generally accepted that the talent level in the NPB is somewhere between AAA and MLB. Even though Murton’s line is a little batting-average heavy, he continues to show that he can hit very well in talented leagues.
Still, we may not see Murton back in the United States any time soon, as the Hanshin Tigers hold a club option on him for 2011. Unfortunately, Murton is already 28 and as such would end up playing two of his prime years out of the Major Leagues. By the time he’s able to return to the States, it may be too late for Murton to truly latch on with a team and show that he can perform at a Major League level.
There are certainly teams in need of outfield help who could’ve used Matt Murton this season. The Orioles have given Corey Patterson over 100 plate appearances this season. Nate McLouth and Melky Cabrera both have sub-.285 wOBAs for the Braves. The Giants gave Eugenio Velez over 50 PAs before jettisoning him. The Royals have played Mitch Maier, Rick Ankiel, Scott Podsednik, and Willie Bloomquist in their outfield. The list goes on, containing poor outfielder after poor outfielder who have gotten chances and, in some cases, guaranteed money, to produce at a very low level.
Sometimes, teams just miss on a player. The Rockies didn’t have room for him, and the Athletics had a crowded outfield when he was in their system. However, there’s hardly an excuse for the other 28 MLB teams in allowing the Hanshin Tigers and their $1.5 million deal draw a league average player into Japan. As Murton continues to produce, this time overseas, we can only wonder what could have happened stateside.
Thanks to Patrick Newman for help with information in this piece.