It seemed like the last thing on the Indians’ to-do list this offseason was to add an outfielder. They have plenty of depth there. Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn, and Drew Stubbs combined to form a talented and speedy starting outfield. Ryan Raburn hit better than your average bench bat, and even Matt Carson played well down at the end of the season.
So the outfield is set, huh?
If you said yes, then you would be wrong.
Late Tuesday night, news had broken that the Indians had signed former Rangers outfielder David Murphy to a 2-year deal worth about $12 million. I’ve always liked Murphy, but I initially questioned the fit. The Indians already had outfield depth, and it seemed like the team had bigger issues to deal with than adding to its surplus.
But that still doesn’t mean that Murphy is a bad signing.
After a tremendous .304/.380/.479 season as the Rangers’ everyday left fielder in 2012, Murphy’s value slipped in 2013. Last season, he hit .220/.282/.374 for Texas, and was relegated to a smaller role with the team as the season went on as a result of his struggles.
However, judging by advanced metrics (which I do a lot), it’s fair to expect a much better season from Murphy in 2014. Although many of his counting stats hovered around his career norms, his BABIP of .227 was well below the league average of .300, meaning that he experienced a lot of tough luck. Furthermore, his home run to fly ball ratio of 9.2% was the lowest he has ever posted through a full season in the majors. It was also below the league average of 10.5%, so it’s possible that he could even hit a few more home runs than the 13 he hit in 2013.
David Murphy is still the same hitter that he has been. Advanced metrics say that he should post better numbers next year, especially since it seems like last season served as an example of Murphy’s Law. (I write my own jokes, as you can probably tell.)
Murphy could be used as an everyday player for the Indians without issue, but he does have platoon splits. While Murphy is a career .280/.347/.469 hitter against righties, he has posted a line of .259/.306/.350 line in his career against southpaws. So, while starting Murphy (even against lefties) would work, perhaps the best use for him is to be part of a platoon in right field.
If only the Indians had someone who can play right field and hit lefties well. That would solve everything, wouldn’t it?
Well, as it turns out, the Indians have two candidates to do just that. Drew Stubbs is a career .274/.349/.448 hitter against left-handed pitching, while Ryan Raburn has hit lefties at a .263/.336/.492 clip in his career.
However, judging by the apparent trade interest in Stubbs and the fact that Raburn was signed to an extension a few months ago, it would appear that Stubbs is the odd man out in Cleveland (sorry, ladies).
I don’t know if the Indians intended for Murphy to platoon or to play every day, but he would create a terrific platoon with either Stubbs or Raburn if that’s the route the Indians choose to take. Since both Stubbs and Raburn hit better against lefties than righties, it became difficult for the Indians to put each player in a position to succeed last year since either Stubbs or Raburn would eventually have to face righties. It was usually Stubbs, and his numbers were greatly weighed down as a result. Stubbs hit .266/.361/.357 in 168 plate appearances against lefties last year, but only .216/.275/.362 against righties. Having a hitter like Murphy who can handle right-handed pitching should take the burden from other hitters in the lineup.
It’s worth noting that Murphy made his major league debut with the Red Sox. It’s possible that manager Terry Francona could be a reason that Murphy chose the Indians, but I wouldn’t look too much into that.
In addition, everything that I’ve read about Murphy says how great of a teammate he is. Having a good guy like him around in the locker room can be great for a club, and Murphy can serve as an excellent role model for younger players on the roster. But he can play baseball too, or else the Indians wouldn’t have signed him.
Signing David Murphy is a great move by GM Chris Antonetti, and one that could pay huge dividends without breaking the bank. Adding Murphy’s ability to hit righties to the lineup (and subtracting what Stubbs and Raburn did against them) should be a terrific help to the Tribe, and should improve upon what was already one of the better offenses in the American League.
And even if David Murphy doesn’t live up to expectations in the outfield, it’s still possible that the team may have found its newest closer.
Works by me.