When the Indians signed David Murphy in the offseason, his acquisition was greeted by most with a mixture of skepticism and disappointment. The Tribe were coming off their first playoff appearance since 2007 and many fans were hoping the club would make a splash for a bigger bat in right field, which had been a weak spot. Instead we had to make do with Murphy, who had just completed the worst year of his career (.220/.282/.374, 13 HR in 476 PA).
When Murphy performed poorly during spring training, some fans wrote him off before the season had even begun. However, the 32-year-old right fielder has answered his critics in style. Murphy has gotten off to a very good start in Cleveland, becoming an integral part of the team as he, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Michael Brantley have keep the offense competitive, as we wait for the heart of the order to show up.
At the time of writing Murphy is batting .286/.346/.457, with 2 HR and 17 RBI, good enough for a .803 OPS (128 OPS+). Those numbers are good, but they don't show just how important Murphy has been in the clutch. When he's had runners in scoring position (RISP), Murphy has batted .414, with a .690 slugging percentage, leading the team in each of those categories. 16 of Murphy's 17 RBI this season have been with RISP, which is over half the total he had in those situations a year ago (29 RBI with RISP in 2013). RBI isn't the be-all, end-all of baseball statistics like it used to be, but it is important to knock runners in and it can't be denied that Murphy has done that very well so far.
When Murphy was signed, it seemed to be for the purpose of platooning in right field with Ryan Raburn. Instead though, Murphy has made nearly every start, without Raburn getting much of a look. Murphy has made 20 starts in right, with Raburn starting there just once (he's also been deployed in left field and as a DH). The Indians didn't hand Murphy a two-year deal worth $12 million to sit on the bench, and credit to him for taking over as an everyday player.
Are we witnessing the 2014 version of Mark Reynolds, who got off to such a hot start last year only to implode in spectacular style? (for a moment last April, I could have sworn Reynolds had biological links to Babe Ruth) The numbers suggest Murphy's stay in Cleveland will last longer than Reynolds', because the numbers suggest Murphy's weak 2013 wasn't as bad as it seemed. Murphy's BABIP with Texas last year was a career-low .227, an incredibly low number. However, his line-drive percentage was 19.3, right in line with his career average (19.2). His ground-ball percentage of 43.1, and fly-ball percentage of 37.6 were both very close to his career averages also (44.3% and 36.5% respectively). He was hitting the ball the same as ever, just without the same results, a clear sign he was very unlucky. His BABIP so far in 2014 is .300, right in line with his career average of .302. With bad luck no longer working against him, he's back to being a productive player.
The season is still young, but if Murphy can maintain even a league-average level of production, the Indians will be getting a good return on their $12 million investment. The early signs point towards Murphy being better than that, and towards right field no longer being a problem for the Tribe.