When an oft-injured player misses the start of spring training, it can be concerning. Sean Murphy fits this description. After suffering a collapsed lung, his start to 2021 may be delayed. It's tough to gauge Murphy since so many of his underlying numbers can be confounding. In 2020, Murphy played in 43 contests accruing 140 plate appearances, 21 runs, seven home runs, 14 RBI and a .233/364/.457 slash line.
He hits for more power against right-handed pitching than southpaws but his average continues to fluctuate against both and it's much too soon to make any judgements on how he may do in the year ahead. Murphy took a major step forward in terms of discipline raising his walk percentage to 17.1 percent during the truncated season. Reducing his swinging strike percentage below 10 percent (9.2 in 2020) while increasing Z-Contact (in the strike zone) and overall (77.4 percent), Murphy made strides in his approach.
According to Statcast, Murphy recorded 79 batted ball events with 10 barrels (12.7 percent), an average exit velocity of 92.2 MPH and a robust 49.4 hard hit rate. Despite his exit velocity and hard hit percentage ranking in the 91st percentile against his peers, Murphy's expected numbers suggest some regression may be pending. He finished with a .217 expected batting average (xBA), a .440 expected slugging (xSLG) and .347 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA).
Similar to his improved discipline metrics above, Murphy owned a zone contact percentage almost in line with his 2019 debut while cutting his chase rate from 31.1 percent to 19.7 in 2020. He also seemed less aggressive last year lowering his swing percentage by almost six points along with slashing his whiff rate by 4.9 percent. Allowing the ball to travel into the zone, Murphy prefers hitting to left-center rather than pulling the ball. Check out his spray chart of hits for his career so far:
It's rare a catcher at his age carries more value in on-base leagues than ones with average. If his hard hit rate results in more line drives and fly balls, an uptick in power could occur in 2021 which would be a boon to those who roster him. For the visual crowd, his xwOBA rolling chart displays why:
Overall, Murphy's played 63 games with Oakland logging 200 plate appearances with 35 runs, 11 home runs, 22 RBI and a .237/.355/.491 slash. His .254 isolated power and .361 weighted on-base average (wOBA) provide hope for growth. Monitor his approach once Murphy can return to game action in the spring. Aggressive may pay off for the young catcher. However, he needs to stay on the field. Murphy eclipsed 95 games in one season as a professional, 2017.
Taking all of this into account, his projection sets reflect past results without too much growth:
With some luck, and the hard hit rates carrying over, Murphy could hit 17-to-19 home runs in 2021. His spot in the lineup may affect his counting statistics but the injury issue entering camp may depress his price point in upcoming drafts. As of now, there's no major upside in targeting Murphy but there's something to be said for safe reliable projections. If one agrees, Murphy's your guy.
THE BAT and THE BAT X courtesy of Derek Carty
ATC courtesy of Ariel Cohen
ZiPS courtesy of Dan Szymborski