Sports

Narrative Ball: Tom Murphy


Tom Murphy is a killer vs. lefthanded pitchers.

Tom Murphy is a killer vs. lefthanded pitchers.
Image: Getty Images

Welcome to Narrative Ball, a series dedicated to pointing out some lesser known players and changing the narrative surrounding them in an effort to put them in the same class as some of the best players in baseball. This is not just an attempt to shine a light on someone worthy of more praise than they receive, but also poke fun at people who dive way too deep on advanced analytics. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing that and it can be very helpful when looking for players you expect to break out. However, when people go too deep and start setting all kinds of prerequisites for lists of players, it can push a narrative about those players that is just entirely untrue. Our example today is Mariners catcher Tom Murphy.

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Currently in his seventh year in the majors, Murphy is 31 years old and has played in just 255 career games. His career triple slash is an underwhelming .234/.305/.444. That gives him an OPS of .749 and an OPS+ of 99, which makes him an ever-so-slightly below-average hitter for his career. That being said, for catchers, an OPS+ of 99 is actually decent. Murphy has gotten off to a strong start in 2022 though. In the two games he’s played, Murphy has two hits in three at-bats including a home run. Not bad, not bad, but there’s a reason he isn’t the team’s every day catcher. He just isn’t good enough at the plate to compensate for his mediocre defensive skills. However, if we know where to look, we can make Murphy look like an All-Star caliber player.

The hardcore baseball fans among you probably know where I’m going with this. Despite the less-than-stellar career numbers, Murphy does have a place in baseball as a platoon hitter. Since the start of 2019, there are only two catchers with at least 300 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers and an OPS over .915 against them:

  • Yasmani Grandal (.954): 2-time All-Star, 15th in MVP voting in 2019
  • Tom Murphy (.933)

Not Buster Posey. Not Salvador Perez. Not J.T. Realmuto. Just Grandal and Murphy. Now, obviously, there are reasons for this. Salvy missed the entirety of 2019 with Tommy John. Posey didn’t play in 2020 due to COVID and retired prior to this season. Realmuto…well, he just hasn’t been that good against lefties.

Still, the fact that I, or anybody for that matter, can bend and twist these stats to our will is astounding. I mean, for goodness sake, Murphy ranks higher than the likes of José Ramírez in this category. Then, you move to weighted runs created-plus (wRC+) and you realize that Murphy (153) is actually rated higher than Grandal (152). It’s nuts. It’s stupid and it’s awesome!

Like I said, I’m not trying to say that these stats are useless. The full list of players with at least 300 PAs and a .915 OPS against lefties since 2019 is filled with All-Stars, sluggers, and players with great potential…except Murphy and Diamondbacks’ outfielder Jordan Luplow. These tools are great to find certain splits and figure out why certain athletes play on certain days but rest on others. It helps you understand the game. Still, it’s hilarious that guys like Murphy can be named in the same sentence as guys like Ramírez and Arenado without joking with just a little manipulation of statistical prerequisites and some determination.

The point of this piece is to make more people weary of lists they see online. While sure, it might be cool to see a player you like brought up in the same vein as guys like Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, or Aaron Judge, it’s way too easy to push a narrative that doesn’t properly evaluate a player. I’m not saying to disregard them entirely, just not to let them define your perception of a player.

I’ve never cared about the Mariners in my life, apart from that time Jon Bois and Alex Rubenstein made a four-hour documentary on the team’s history. But now I know that whenever the team is facing a southpaw, I should expect to see Murphy slotted somewhere into the lineup. He’s definitely on par with guys like Grandal, Perez, and Realmuto. After all, that’s the narrative I’m trying to push.

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