David Murphy ranked 88th among outfielders in Zach Sanders’ rankings, worth negative $5. His disappointing season allowed the Cleveland Indians to sign the 32-year-old platoon outfielder to an affordable two-year, $12 million contract. In Cleveland, he’ll likely platoon with lefty masher Drew Stubbs. His predictable platoon, ability to produce at an average level in all five categories, and poor 2013 combine to make Murphy a cheap late-draft target.
Murphy has been a useful role player for fantasy owners since 2008, so his .289 wOBA last season was a disappointment for many, especially coming on the heals of his excellent 2012. Murphy, who bats left-handed, has had his plate appearances against same-handed pitching limited throughout his career. Fantasy owners have also been careful to do the same, since he’s an above average hitter against right-handed pitching.
2013 was a season Murphy would like to forget. He hit a paltry .220/.282/.374 with only one steal. His 13 home runs were nice but didn’t offset the lack of production in the other categories. He scored just 51 runs and contributed a career low 45 RBI, further hurting his cause.
He has demonstrated a typical platoon split over the course of his career. Against lefties, he has struck out three percent more often, walked three percent less often, and hit for less than half as much power. His reputation as a platoon hitter appears well earned and it’s unlikely that he’ll get more at bats against lefties unless the Indians get rid of Stubbs.
Contrary to his performance in 2013, Murphy is capable of contributing to all five categories. He has the ability to reach double digits in steals and home runs with a roughly .275 average. Steamer and Oliver have similar projections, pegging Murphy for about 14 home runs, seven stolen bases, and a .260 average.
Murphy suffered from a depressed .227 BABIP last season. Of players with over 300 plate appearances, only Darwin Barney, Dan Uggla, and Yuniesky Betancourt had a lower BABIP. Unlike that trio, Murphy doesn’t have an obvious flaw in his skill set that would cause us to expect a low BABIP. His batted ball distribution was consistent with his career numbers. His average fly ball distance did decline seven feet – a sign that the quality of his contact may have been worse. However, those seven feet don’t explain a drop of this magnitude. He has a career .302 BABIP, so Murphy was probably unlucky last season.
By my count, Murphy put 364 balls in play last season. If 30 percent of those balls in play were hits, his batting average would have spiked from .220 to .250. That’s much closer to his career numbers and the performance fantasy owners expect. As such, it seems like a good bet that many of Murphy’s woes from 2013 will magically regress away.
Murphy did suffer a minor injury in 2013 – he was stunned after running into the outfield wall. The trauma required some rest to heal, but Murphy mostly played through it. It’s not my opinion that crashing into the wall explains his poor season, but it is worth noting. There is no obvious explanation as to why his stolen base total declined from 10 in 2012 to just one last season.
The aggressiveness with which you pursue Murphy will depend on your league type and scoring. Most owners should view Murphy as a target among the $1 dollar crowd or final few rounds of a snake draft. Because he isn’t an every day player, his typical full season performance isn’t much better than replacement level. You’ll also be dedicating a spot on your roster to somebody who isn’t playable one-third of the time. As such, it’s important that you fully leverage his plate appearances against right-handed pitching and use somebody else for when a lefty takes the hill. This strategy is usually best achieved by keeping a roster spot dedicated to streaming.
Still, you can do a lot worse with your final dollar. Regression should get him back up to around positive $5 of value next season.
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