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Swinging for the Fences: David Murphy and lineup balance

How does adding Murphy help stabilize the offense?

Swinging for the Fences: David Murphy and lineup balance
November 26, 2013
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One of the greatest Christmas gifts I ever received was a baseball team to be excited about. Of course, the same goes for many Tribe fans back during the winter of 2012-2013 where Terry Francona took the reins of a ballclub struggling to get to that next level as a potential playoff contender. The subsequent additions of Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and others sent anticipation for the upcoming season into orbit.

This new-look team brought us highlight-reel plays, walk-off wins and other memorable moments we fans won't soon forget. We did learn to take the good with the bad, however, since this bunch took brought this winning-deprived city a rare playoff berth.

What "bad" do I speak of? Two words: Free swingers.

Strikeouts are a part of the game and having an exorbitant amount of whiffs doesn't necessarily have a lot of bearing on a team's success. After all, the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox had the fourth most strikeouts in the league. 

The difference between having a lot of strikeouts and having a lot of free swingers is that with the latter, being in a slump causes them to expand their strike zone more to the point where they swing at practically anything close to the plate. (Sound familiar, Asdrubal?)

The Indians have an offense made up of speed, power and a pretty evenly-distributed workload. But what they also have is free swingers, with one notable exception by the name of Michael Brantley. I'm sure we can remember (or are trying to forget) some of the extended dry spells this lineup experienced throughout the season, times where from game to game, we wondered if these guys would ever score more than 2-3 runs ever again.

That's a problem that not even a guy nicknamed "Dr. Smooth" can handle on his own.

This is where I'm happy to say welcome aboard, David Murphy!

Now I know many fans' initial response was "Why did we sign a .220 hitter to a two-year deal?"

Well, why did we acquire Ryan Raburn, or Jason Giambi, or Marc Rzepczynski? Because they were players down on their luck looking for a rebound. Murphy fits that mold to a T.

Of course, trying to find that "lightining in a bottle" doesn't always work. (A certain Mr. Jason Kubel comes to mind.) But when it's at a low risk, why not give it a try? Obviously Chris Antonetti and the Tribe front office have utilized that philosophy more often as of late and have had a decent success rate thus far.

Is it possible that Murphy's age is starting to catch up with him and his skills are beginning to diminish? Yeah, it's possible, but it's also possible that 2013 was just an anomaly and that his production could return to his career norms next season.

Murphy admitted to trying to overcompensate for the loss of Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton last offseason. However, his poor performance could have also just been plain bad luck. Believe it or not, it happens.

So what "norms" could we expect from him? Well, for starters, think of Michael Brantley with a little more power, meaning a guy who usually hits for a high average and doesn't rack up too many strikeouts. Of course, Murphy doesn't have nearly the same clutch ability as Dr. Smooth, although his career .272 batting mark with runners in scoring position isn't too shabby.

The low strikeouts are what are most appealing to me, though. Don't get me wrong, I love what everyone on this team has to offer, but if there's any way to cut down on the whiffs, I'm all ears.

When discussing punchouts, I'm not all that disappointed to see Mark Reynolds long gone and Drew Stubbs possibly on his way out, too via trade or non-tender. Granted they each have unique qualities to offer, be it power, speed or defense, but like I said, the less strikeouts, the better.

If Murphy is to get at least 400 at-bats this upcoming season, as the team indicated, his presence in the lineup along with Brantley could help better offset the free-swinging clinic.

In 2013, the Indians finished fifth in the league in strikeouts with 1,283. Without Reynolds and Stubbs, that's 264 K's eliminated right off the bat, which would put them at 1,019, or the lowest amount in the AL. Murphy would only add somewhere in the neighborhood of 70-90 whiffs. 

While Murphy is expected to garner the majority of the playing time in right field, he could be spelled by Ryan Raburn on occasion against left-handed pitching. In his career, the 32-year-old has .280 average against right-handers and a .259 mark against lefties. Not a horrible difference, but throw in Raburn, who hit .308 against southpaws last season and you have a solid platoon.

Of course, this is a best-case scenario based on simple mathematics, but take Murphy and Raburn's season averages in home runs and RBI, Cleveland could potentially have 33 homers and 136 RBI coming out of right field in 2014. Those exact totals may be unlikely, but if both are healthy and productive, there's no reason not to expect positive production from the starboard flank of the outfield.

So basically, no, David Murphy is not the middle-of-the-order power threat that's on all our Christmas wish lists this year. However, he does fill a significant need for the Indians if he is able to return to his pre-2013 form. One less free-swinger can help this offense in a great deal of ways and make the lineup mesh together even better if and when we do find the slugger we're looking for.

Jake's Takes

Joe Smith, Angels agree to 3-year/$15 million contract... Of all the guys who may be leaving the Tribe this offseason, Joe Smith may be the guy I miss the most. With Chris Perez also leaving, the back of the bullpen is currently unsettled heading into next season. There's a lot of potential with upcoming reliever prospects and the possibility of Vinnie Pestano rebounding or Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw stepping into more prominent roles in the bullpen, but that is still easier said than done. 

Joe Smith is also of a rare breed. With relievers being so volitile year in and year out (Pestano is a perfect example), finding a guy who can give you consistent dominance every season is something you shouldn't take for granted, but for whatever reason, the Tribe didn't see it in the cards to re-sign the submarine-style right-hander, so he found a better suitor in the Angels. Good for him and good luck to him on his future.

Brian McCann signs 5-year/$85-million deal with Yankees... Okay, let me first just say that McCann is a decent catcher and the Yankees filled a major hole in their lineup by signing him, but if $85 million was the price tag on his head, then the Indians got a significant bargain with Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn last offseason, who if their contracts were put together would be worth only $19 million more than McCann's deal. It could be just another case of New York overpaying for someone, but that still seems like a lot for a guy who only hit .256 last year.

Cardinals agree to terms with Jhonny Peralta on 4-year/$52 million deal... While I'm not saying it won't happen, the chances of the Indians trading Asdrubal Cabrera this offseason just got dimmer. St. Louis was the prime suitor for someone looking to trade a shortstop for a decent return. But thanks to our old friend Jhonny, that possibility may have been eliminated. Of course, there's still a chance if the Cardinals show interest in him for their now-vacant third base role, but whether Cabrera would agree to that is another can of worms.

Angels and Cardinals complete swap of Bourjos and Freese, plus minor leaguers... Speaking of the Cardinals, they just sent their hometown icon and 2011 postseason hero David Freese and right-hander Fernando Salas to Los Angeles in exchange for prime, young. defensive outfielder Peter Bourjos and minor league outfielder Randal Gruchuk. Not a bad move for either side since the Angels need a third baseman and as much pitching as they can get while St. Louis needs outfield help with the likely departure of Carlos Beltran. Freese's decline in production in 2013 may have indicated a need for a change of scenery.

In Conclusion...

Look, I get that we're all anxious to get that big power bat and signing David Murphy likely isn't going to be all and call it an offseason. Terry Francona knows what his team needs and he will convey them to Chris Antonetti, who also is well-aware of what they need. Plus, Murphy does fill a major void on the offense even if it isn't a middle-of-the-order bat. If he's able to bounce back as the Indians hope, he'll provide more lineup balance and potentially even help prevent the extended team slumps caused by the abundance of free-swingers.

It may not be an exciting move, but it's a good move.

Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.

User Comments

Max
November 27, 2013 - 4:40 PM EST
Jake D.

Definitely agree with all of that. Flexibility of the offense is a great strength for us.

I still think Stubbs has value on the team.

I wouldn't give him away for nothing though.

He is probably even more valuable to a national league team with his speed/defense if we were to trade him.
Walter
November 27, 2013 - 1:16 PM EST
I believe its a make or break year for Chisenhall, Hagadone, and Carrasco. I also believe it's a rebound year for Swisher, Bourn and Cabrera.
Jake D.
November 27, 2013 - 10:02 AM EST
Max, I don't think of Brantley as a traditional lefty in that he can hit both RHP and LHP consistently, which is another reason why I love having him in the lineup. Also remember Brantley can play CF and Aviles can play the corner OF spots if Bourn needs a rest. One of this team's biggest strengths is its versatility, which is why I think a Murphy/Raburn platoon is feasible.
Tony
November 27, 2013 - 8:57 AM EST
I don't believe Cabrera plays 3B, especially in a walk year. The Indians still believe in Chisenhall, and if they do anything, I think they find a platoon mate for him or just give Aviles more at bats there. Or, they mix in others like Santana who might get a handful of starts.

Like I said in another post, it is hard to be convinced about anything Carrasco and Bauer do this spring. Both should not be in the Indians opening day rotation no matter how great they look in spring training. You can't trust them. You need a long stretch of consistent performance before you can. That said, I expect Bauer to open in Columbus and Carrasco in the bullpen in long relief, and then when the Indians have a starting need perhaps they get that opportunity to shine and run with it. That's exactly what Kluber did this year.
Rich
November 27, 2013 - 8:37 AM EST
Watching the Tribe in September, I noticed that Chisenhall was being much more selective at the plate. He was taking a lot more pitches than earlier in the season. It was obvious.

Checking his splits, he hit .270/.920 in September with a .595 slugging percentage. It was only 37 AB's because they were platooning him, but his approach at the plate was definitely better and so were the numbers.

In August Chisenhall bottomed out. For the month he hit .145 with 3 walks and 16 K's. Maybe that horrendus month finally convinced him that his "swing at the first pitch I see" approach wasn't working and he needed to get serious about plate discipline or he'd find himself back in Columbus in 2014. Maybe Francona had a talk with him and said, "You just hit .145 this month - don't you think it's time to try something different?"

Anyway, being an optimist I'm hoping the light has gone on for Chiz and he finally bought into the idea that if his approach is more like Brantley then maybe he'll hit like Brantley, only with power.
Willie
November 27, 2013 - 8:12 AM EST
Some interesting comments on ACab, Chisenhall, Carrasco and Bauer. I'm ever the optimist, so I expect goods things from all of these guys, but also, try to balance that with the reality this team needs options and has to protect itself. I'd agree, ACab could handle 3b, he's got good reflexes and a good arm. His range is limited, but at 3b I think it would be hidden.

IF keeping Cabrera is keeping the Indians from making a significant upgrade (i.e. Matt Garza) then they are better served moving him. I'm an ACab fan, but his contract could be binding short term...that said, the Tribe could get creative back loading a deal, while waiting for the farm system to produce some of the talent that appears to be progressing towards the bigs. Producing talent offsets the need to dip into the FA pool, which is always high cost.

All of this said, I think the Tribe is better served moving Michael Bourn if at all possible. Taking a lesser return for a guy the Tribe signed as a FA doesn't really bother me, acq. talent necessitates spending talent or cash $$$, that is the cold hard facts. The Tribe needs some flexibility, I expect they will get it by trading ACab or Bourn.

After seeing Choo moved this past offseason, when I fully expected ACab to be moved, has me thinking the Tribe could once again get creative. That said, Choo was in his walk yr, but there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding him. The Tribe created a number of options for themselves on the trade front, I expect the same this winter as well. In fact, I would say they will be very active in discussions looking to fill the rotation and BP needs.
Chip
November 27, 2013 - 6:17 AM EST
I should've stated earlier that I prefer to give Chisenhall every opportunity to succeed. His power potential is too good. I also prefer to give Ramirez the everyday SS duties. What he brings in defense and speed alone is more valuable to me than Cabrera. If he continues to hit then his value skyrockets before Lindor is ready. The Indians could quickly be in a similar situation that Texas was in with Profar and Andrus. Even Kinsler and Kipnis have several abilities in common. Kind of weird the more I think about it. I expect Cabrera to be dealt, even if the return is insignificant, $10 million can be used elsewhere(Kazmir).
Chip
November 27, 2013 - 5:56 AM EST
3b seems to fit Asdrubal's ability well. He has quick reaction time with limited range and a strong accurate arm. I'd think that it would atleast be an option.

If Carrasco comes into spring training with control then he's in the rotation and he quickly becomes a solid #2 atleast. If Bauer does the same then McCallister will be on the block. A rotation of Masterson, Kluber, Salazar, Carrasco, and McCallister/Bauer would be the most powerful rotation in my lifetime, and I've been around for a minute. Realistically, I don't expect Bauer to have pinpoint control, but I do think Carrasco will surprise this season.
Max
November 27, 2013 - 12:42 AM EST
I agree with Seth's comments.

There's no need to trade Cabrera. We will get nothing substantial in return except salary relief which is for only one year.

I also don't know why everyone wants to see Stubbs traded so badly. He is near 80 grade in speed and defense. Had .361 OBP vs lefties.

Even with Raburn there to platoon with Murphy in Right, you still have two left handed bats in Bourn & Brantley in other slots that he could relieve against tough lefties.

I think he has good value on the bench
Tony
November 26, 2013 - 11:35 PM EST
I'm in agreement that the Indians are probably better off holding onto Cabrera and banking on a rebound season from him in his free agent year. Who knows, perhaps he bounces back with a big year with the bat sort of like how Jimenez did on the mound in his walk year. I'm fine with Aviles as a short term option at shortstop and filling in, but I agree that Aviles (or Ramirez) for a long stretch is a big reach and their warts will show.
Andy
November 26, 2013 - 8:26 PM EST
Droobs had a career-worst WAR in 2013, even worse than when he broke his forearm and played 39 fewer games in 2010, and still had a better season OPS than Aviles. The Peralta deal shows that there isn't much salary savings for another team at SS in trading for Droobs compared to free agency, so I'm skeptical he gets dealt. I'm all for keeping him for 2014 and hitting him 7th between Gomes and Brantley.
Walter
November 26, 2013 - 7:46 PM EST
Trade value for Cabrera is in the toilet. Rooting for bounce back with big numbers. If Indians out of contention trade at the trade deadline. If not, depending how good of season he has offer a QO offer at the end of year.
Seth
November 26, 2013 - 7:41 PM EST
Everyone on this site is obsessed with trading Asdrubal. Sure they could trade him, I'm not sure it's even a good idea though. It would likely be for a limited return, just salary relief so they could spend elsewhere. But then you'd be talking about having Aviles as the starting shortstop. Which would not be a good thing. There's a good chance Asdrubal bounces back. Might as well hope he has a big year for Cleveland.
Willie
November 26, 2013 - 7:01 PM EST
All it takes is one team, and the right team banking ACab will try to put up big numbers in his walk yr to make a trade. I'd have to guess the Cards are almost certainly off the table. The NYY, Mets, Phillies, Pirates, Nationals and Dodgers could all have interest. Then there's always that mystery team, that so vaguely talked about...seriously though, you never know...if a team thinks he helps their offense the Tribe could strike a deal.
Tony
November 26, 2013 - 6:00 PM EST
Hiram, there is nothing that Carrasco and Bauer can do to prove they are reliable in the spring only. It would have to be a season long thing.....not just spring training or the first two months of the season. So, if Carrasco and Bauer prove over a full season that they can be relied upon, then yes, I would be fine with maybe trading McAllister or Kluber for a big need....or hell, even trading Carrasco and Bauer. But there is no way that the team can rely on them right now. They are too erratic and you can't trust their performance until they do it over a long period of time.
Jimmy
November 26, 2013 - 4:37 PM EST
I think that we have should keep Asdrubal due to last year was the first with Terry and he is a true talent. If we cannot get Chase Headley, then one move that could happen is the move Jason Kipnis to 3B, Ramiez to 2B and keep Asdrubal at SS. That way we could still have Lonnie and Mike as back-ups. The other thing I think you should keep Drew due to speed and age and trade Mike if the right deal comes up. You don't find a man with his speed and talent at such a low price. Remember, he played in the national league and maybe needs a year under his belt to adjust. I feel we have some real young player on the roster and who knows who might just be ready with a chance this spring. Remember we signed Mike very very late and you never know.
Hermie13
November 26, 2013 - 4:24 PM EST
Yeah even with the Cards out, still options with Cabrera. Pittsburgh, NY, maybe Boston or the Dodgers could be in need of a SS.

And as said, could look at teams in need of a 2B...like A's, Yanks (if Cano leaves), Nationals (if Rendon is moved to 3B), and a few others.

Drew is the only SS on the open market better than Asdrubal. Furcal may be the next best one and he missed all of 2013 after being very injury prone before.
Walter
November 26, 2013 - 4:19 PM EST
Hiram

Our past clean up hitters were developed from within.

Albert Belle
Manny Ramirez
Jim Thome
Victor Martinez
Travis Hafner

I think if given a full year hitting #4 that Carlos Santana is the guy.

Hiram
November 26, 2013 - 4:19 PM EST
I meant McAllister or Kluber not Bauer or Kluber
Hiram
November 26, 2013 - 4:15 PM EST
If Bauer and Carrasco step up in spring and prove that they can hangle starting everyday, would you consider trading a starter like Bauer or Kluber to get a power hitter or stashing away a couple or really good prospects for use at a later date??
Walter
November 26, 2013 - 4:15 PM EST
I think the Mets or Pirates need a SS. Cabrera did play 2b when Peralta was here. Who ever in market for 2b and cant afford Cano could consider Cabrera a possibility. I think he will be our SS on Opening Day.
Tony
November 26, 2013 - 3:27 PM EST
I don't see any fit with Asdrubal and the Cardinals. That ship has sailed.....the Indians missed out on that opportunity last offseason.
Hermie13
November 26, 2013 - 3:14 PM EST
The only way I could see Asdrubal to the Cards now was if they swung a deal for something like Price and included Kolton Wong in the deal. Asdrubal would then be a fit at 2B. But yeah...Asdrubal to St. Louis really is dead now.
Chris Beets
November 26, 2013 - 3:04 PM EST
Why would they trade for Asdrubal and then move him to 3rd. Peralta was moved to 3rd for Asdrubal to play short before and nothing has drastically changed since then. If they wanted Asdrubal they would just move Peralta back to 3rd.
Seth
November 26, 2013 - 9:31 AM EST
This is the second time I've seen IBI call the Indians a bunch of free swingers, with the exception of Brantley. For the record, rankings in lowest swing % in MLB last year:
#4 Jason Kipnis
#8 Carlos Santana
#27 Nick Swisher
#31 Michael Brantley

The Indians as a team had the second-lowest swing % and O-swing % in MLB. They were by any definition one of the least free-swinging teams in the league.

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