- Date of birth: November 2, 1990
- 2017 line: 5 games, 7 PA, .143/.143/.286 = .429 OPS
- 2017 value: -0.1 bWAR
- 2017 salary: minimum
- SnakePit rating: 3.02
There was a point late in this season where I was increasingly convinced that Murphy was actually a work of fiction, a bit like Sidd Finch, invented by our front office as a surrealist prank. For although he was officially added to the D-backs roster when the rosters expanded at the start of September, it took 24 days before he got a plate appearance, finally seeing his sole start of the year on Sep 25. Until then, he had only been seen as a ninth inning defensive replacement in two games the Diamondbacks won by a combined score of 20-0. It’s understandable if you weren’t exactly paying attention to line-up changes by that point.
He came to the Diamondbacks from the Twins following a late July deal, in exchange for minor league LHP Gabriel Moya. His stock there had dropped considerably: he had gone to Minnesota in November 2015, in a straight swap with the Yankees for Aaron Hicks. [In December 2013, Baseball America ranked Murphy ahead of Aaron Judge and Luis Severino, and he caught Mariano Rivera’s final pitch] But Murphy flopped in 2016 and hit only .222 at Triple-A Rochester this season. He did better after the trade: over 19 games for the Aces, he had a triple-slash of .284/.351/.373 and a .724 OPS. Though if you apply the Reno correction to his line, it’s still short of major-league worthy.
So perhaps there was good reason why Murphy didn’t see the batter’s box for three and a half weeks. Despite his deficiencies at the plate, he has continued to get good grades for his defensive abilities and pitch-framing. This would go some way to explaining why he was acquired by the D-backs, in line with the recent emphasis on such things under the new front office. According to Baseball Prospectus, Murphy was +17.8 Fielding Runs Above Average in 2016, and +22.4 FRAA this year. Indeed, in May, he was called “the best framing catcher in professional baseball”:
John Ryan Murphy has been the best framing catcher in professional baseball so far this year. Getting 3.1% more called strikes than average. pic.twitter.com/oyJekrnGQA— Grant Spears (@SpearsGrantM) May 30, 2017
Murphy ascribes his skill simply to repetition. “The more balls you see, receive, in practice or in-game, the more opportunity that’s given to you to make them a strike. I think over time you work at it and understand what angles, with your body, you can create to give the umpire a better look or more of a strike look. There’s a lot of things that go into it, but I would say just the repetition of the amount of balls that we receive, over time you learn how to get some strikes.” As such, the 26-year-old Murphy might well represent a younger, cheaper alternative to Chris Herrmann this year, and in the longer term, possibly even Jeff Mathis.