When you break a record set by 2017 era Chris Herrmann, it’s never likely to be a GOOD thing. But that’s the spot in which John Ryan Murphy finds himself, having taken the mantle from Herrmann for the worst month by OPS at the plate in franchise history (min 40 AB). It has been a precipitous downward spiral for Murphy. We’re as guilty as anyone of hot takes. For there was a point at which writers here were creating articles such as John Ryan Murphy - is he better than JT Realmuto? or John Ryan Murphy Needs To Be The Everyday Starter At Catcher. And there was evidence for these hopes. On June 1, Murphy had appeared in 33 games, with a line of .278/.305/.646 for a .950 OPS.
But the rest of the month, he barely hit over the Uecker Line, batting .208 with a .566 OPS. Then things got really ugly. He doubled and singled on the 1st: that was half his hits for the whole month. In July all told, he went 4-for-42, with two walks and 17 K, a line of .095/.136/.119, an OPS of .255. Murphy’s last hit was July 6: since then, he is 0-for-25 with one walk and ten strikeouts over 10 games. Only one man since 2011 has had a longer hitless streak for the D-backs. No prizes for guessing that was... 2017 era Chris Hermann, who had 11- and 12-game ohfers. Before him, you find the likes of Sean Burroughs and Russell Branyan. But each of those had fewer AB than Murphy during his run, which will carry on into August.
Here are details of the ten lowest OPS months by any Diamondbacks, again with the minimum 40 AB cut-off.
Worst months in franchise history
If you’re wondering, while Alex Avila’s worst month was May, with an OPS of .265, he fell short of the 40 AB threshold. [Though with some careful cherry-picking of end points, you can find a 55 AB period where Avila’s OPS was .216] This does seem to illustrate a huge double-standard among fans. Many Dorito munchers were loud in their calls for Avila to be released less than a dozen team games into the season.
How about you DFA Avila . He sucks . Why did we get rid of Herman for him? Smfh— Ty Jensen (@TyScottJensen) April 11, 2018
But when Murphy has been as bad, if not worse, for a month... crickets, by comparison. The most amusing thing is that during Murphy’s epic suckage, Avila had the highest OPS of any D-backs hitter for July, and it wasn’t even close: at 1.223, he was 273 points above Goldschmidt... and 968 points above Murphy!
Watching Monday night’s game included a perfect example of his struggles. Below is the Gameday picture of an at-bat that night against Martin Perez. Three pitches, none of them anywhere near the strike-zone. Three swings that should never have been, resulting in two fouls and a complete whiff on the third. This was a plate appearance by a man completely lost at the dish - apparent, even to someone like me, who never played baseball at any level (because they were the kind of hacks I would take!). And when Murphy has made contact, he has been hitting the ball into the ground for easy outs. In July, 56.0% of his balls in play were on the ground, compared to team average of 44.5%.
The core of the problem has perhaps been Murphy’s plate discipline, which has completely evaporated. As the above also illustrates, he has both been swinging at pitches out of the zone more often, and failing to make any contact. The chart below shows his 20-game rolling average for these areas of his game. The red line is the percentage of times Murphy swing at a pitch outside the zone; for those pitches, the blue line shows the percentage of times he then made contact. The trend in each of these departments is obvious enough not to need much comment. But swinging at pitcher’s pitches is generally not a good idea, unless you’re Vlad Guerrero - and the imploding contact rate shows Murphy is not.
Fixing these areas will be the first step to fixing Murphy and getting him back on track to being the hitter we imagined he could be over the first couple of months. I certainly hope that can happen. The presence of not one, but two months of Nick Ahmed on the “Ten worst months” list suggests that all might not be lost for John. And what we’ve seen from Avila, should also be an object lesson for everyone on the perils of coming to definitive and irrevocable conclusions about players, based on a month or so of performance.