Murphy’s law (of averages)
Right field will have a new look for the Indians in 2014. Cleveland has agreed to a two-year, $12-million contract with outfielder David Murphy, and the deal includes a club option for 2016. Things will be made official once Murphy completes a physical.
You can expect Murphy — a veteran of eight Major League seasons between stints with the Red Sox and Rangers — to play a lot of right field. What that means for Ryan Raburn or Drew Stubbs remains to be seen. As of right now, a lefty-righty platoon of either Murphy-Raburn or Murphy-Stubbs makes the most sense.
What might the production of those platoons look like? We’ll get to that in a moment. First…
Could the Indians carry Michael Brantley (left field), Michael Bourn (center), Murphy, Raburn and Stubbs on the roster? The flexibility of players such as Raburn (corner outfield, second and third base, DH), Nick Swisher (first base, right field, DH), Carlos Santana (catcher, first base, DH) and Mike Aviles (corner outfield, all over the infield) make it possible.
Cleveland could also clear up this perceived outfield logjam by attempting to trade Stubbs, who is arbitration eligible this winter. The Indians might also consider non-tendering Stubbs prior to the Dec. 2 deadline for offering a contract to arbitration players. That would provide some salary relief for the pursuit of other roster needs.
For now, the outfield in Cleveland is crowded, and that leaves everything else up to speculation.
The heart of this signing is Murphy’s consistent track record, experience in all three outfield spots and his numbers against right-handed pitching. Yes, the 32-year-old Murphy had a down year in 2012 (.220/282/.374), but he also seemed to fall victim to some hard luck (.227 BaBIP compared to .302 for his career). Consider that Murphy actually saw improvement in his strikeout-to-walk ratio, had nearly an identical groundball-flyball ratio (.79) as his career rate (.80) and posted a line-drive percentage (22) near his career rate (20). Murphy’s contact rate (85 percent) was also in line with his career performance (84 percent).
Taking all of that information into account, along with Murphy’s slash line of .283/.346/.449 over the 2008-12 seasons, and it’s easy to see why he’d be a strong bounceback candidate for 2014.
It might not be fair to judge Murphy only on his subpar production in 2013, just as it’s not entirely fair to look at Raburn’s 2013 (.901 OPS) or 2012 (.480 OPS) in a vacuum. As for Stubbs, well, his 2013 slash line (.233/.305/.360) was pretty close to his career rate (.239/.310/.381). At this point, Stubbs is what he is: a better center fielder than right fielder, and a player with plus speed and a solid ability to hit lefties.
True, Stubbs was less exposed as a No. 9 hitter for Cleveland than he was as a leadoff man for the Reds in previous seasons, but putting the outfielder in an everyday role cost the Tribe some offense against right-handed pitching. Over the course of his career, Stubbs has hit .274 (.796 OPS) against lefties, compared to .226 (.652) against righties. In 2013, his showing vs. right-handers dipped to .216 (.637).
On the season, the Indians saw right-handers 67.5 percent of the time (4,163 plate appearances out of 6,665). Among Cleveland’s right fielders in 2013, Stubbs drew 50.5 percent of the plate appearances (318-of-630). The Indians went into the season hoping Stubbs’ speed and defense could help make up for the expected performance against righties as an everyday right fielder. That wasn’t the case, and that’s why a free-agent signing like Murphy comes into play as a possible way to upgrade.
So, again, what might a Murphy-Raburn or Murphy-Stubbs platoon look like? Hang with me now…
Over the past five seasons, the Indians had a 69.8/30.2 percentage split when it came to plate appearances against righties and lefties. With that in mind, I projected based upon a 70/30 line. Cleveland’s right fielders (Stubbs, Raburn, Swisher, Matt Carson, Jason Kubel and Ezequiel Carrera) accounted for 630 plate appearances in 2013, though the average for all nine positions was 675 PAs. Right field was lower due to the position being lower in the lineup most of the time.
The three main right fielders (Stubbs, Raburn and Swisher) accounted for 610 plate appearances. With that in mind, I projected based on 600 PAs for a Murphy-Raburn or Murphy-Stubbs platoon. That leaves anywhere between 25-75 plate appearances for other players, which we’re tossing out for the sake of this experiment. Using the 70/30 split, that creates a PA split of 420/180 for the platoon. To project the numbers, I used the combined 2011-13 production of Murphy (vs. RHP), Raburn and Stubbs (each vs. LHP). A three-year sample tends to be more accurate than looking at one isolated season.
Cleveland Right Field total production 2013:
Stats: 139 H, 30 2B, 1 3B, 24 HR, 79 RBI, 59 BB, 243 TB
Stubbs, Raburn and Swisher in RF in 2013:
Stats: 132 H, 29 2B, 1 3B, 23 HR, 75 RBI, 56 BB, 232 TB
Murphy-Raburn platoon projection for 2014:
Stats: 144 H, 36 2B, 2 3B, 21 HR, 66 RBI, 53 BB, 247 TB
Murphy-Stubbs platoon projection for 2014:
Stats: 147 H, 28 2B, 3 3B, 19 HR, 67 RBI, 58 BB, 238 TB
The goal is to upgrade the production from right field and, whether going with Raburn or Stubbs as a pairing with Murphy, the signing projects to accomplish precisely that. Granted, there are flaws in the projection, because it goes without saying that Murphy would also face lefties in spots and Raburn or Stubbs would also see at-bats against righties. The projection is that of a platoon in the purest sense, and it’s just to give you an idea of what the expected performance could look like in 2014.
This might not be a “wow” move that excites the fan base, but it’s a reasonably-priced move that should result in an improved offensive showing out of right field. If you like intangibles, Murphy also has veteran leadership skills, playoff experience and a history with manager Terry Francona. Things like that can’t be quantified, but they are also important for a team that is trying to take the next step after winning 92 games and tasting the postseason.
Now, about that rotation…
FIVE ADDED TO TRIBE’S 40-MAN ROSTER
Wednesday marked the deadline to add Rule 5-eligible players to the 40-man roster in order to protect them from exposure to the annual selection process. Cleveland purchased the contracts of RHP Bryan Price (Triple-A Columbus), RHP Austin Adams (Double-A Akron), 1B Jesus Aguilar (Double-A), OF Carlos Moncrief (Double-A) and INF Erik Gonzalez (Class A Carolina). In order to add all five to the roster, infielder Cord Phelps was designated for assignment.
Tribe GM Chris Antonetti discussed each player with reporters after the 3 p.m. ET announcement.
Antonetti, on Price: “In Bryan’s case, it was a guy that really thrived this year at Triple-A. He made a lot of progress in how he attacked hitters. He features a good fastball and two good secondary pitches. He was one of the more effective relievers in all of Triple-A.”
Antonetti, asked if Price could compete for MLB bullpen job this spring: “He could, yes. He’ll come into camp and we’ll have to see how things shake out in our bullpen, but he could b a guy who comes in and earns a spot.”
Price (Double-A/Triple-A) in 2013:
47 games, 2.04 ERA, 75 IP, 92 K, 16 BB, .206 average
Antonetti, on Adams: “Austin bounced back from his shoulder surgery extraordinarily well. He worked really hard to get back to where he was pre-surgery. He’s got one of the best arms, not only in our system, but throughout the Minor Leagues. He has a good complement of secondary pitches as well, and misses a lot of bats. He’s another guy who we feel isn’t too far from contributing at the Major League level, if he continues to make progress.”
Adams (Double-A) in 2013:
45 games, 2.62 ERA, 55 IP, 76 K, 29 BB, .215 average
Antonetti, on Aguilar: “He’s getting closer. He made a lot of progress from last year to this year. The Double-A level is always a good test, especially for position players, and Jesus did a really good job of anchoring that lineup. He’s continuing his work down there in winter ball and is off to an extraordinary start down there. He’s continued to work hard. He has a really bright future and he’s on a good path developmentally.”
Antonetti, asked about Aguilar playing some third base in winter ball: “They had a lot of injuries on their winter ball team, so Jesus has gone over there and played some third base. It’s always good to increase your versatility.”
Antonetti, asked if Indians might consider more time at third for Aguilar: “We’d have to see how that continues to go. It wasn’t something that was top-of-mind for us as the season ended. But the fact that he’s gotten an opportunity and experience down in winter ball, it’s something we’ll look to see and maybe continue as we head to Spring Training. But right now, we still view him primarily as a first baseman.”
Aguilar (Double-A) in 2013:
.275/.349/.427, 16 HR, 28 2B, 105 RBI, 66 R, 130 games
Antonetti, on Moncrief: “He was one of the highlights of our development system this year. He’s a guy that’s made a lot of progress, really, if you look at what he’s done, and how he continued his development as a hitter. He really cut down on his strikeout rate, and really continued to improve his defense in the outfield to the point where he’s now a very good outfielder with a well above-average arm with good reads and routes. That’s now become a strength for him and he’s continued to improve as a hitter. Given his limited experience as a hitter, because he started his professional career as a pitcher, it’s been encouraging to see the progress he’s made.”
Moncrief (Double-A) in 2013:
.284/.354/.470, 17 HR, 26 2B, 7 3B, 75 RBIs, 77 R, 129 games
Antonetti, on Gonzalez: “He’s another great development story. Erik’s one of the hardest workers and best teammates in our organization. He did a tremendous job of improving himself as a player. He’s a guy that’s always been a really good defensive player, and he’s worked hard at every position he’s played on the field. We gave him the opportunity to play some shortstop and he really excelled there. We think he’s got a chance to be an above-average defender no matter where he plays defensively, whether that’s shortstop, second base, he can play the corners on the infield, he can play the outfield, and he continues to improve as a hitter. As much as any player in our system, he’s made progress through his hard work this year.”
Gonzalez (Class A Lake County/Carolina) in 2013:
.254/.293/.417, 9 HR, 32 2B, 12 3B, 76 RBI, 75 R, 132 games
Who is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft?
Players first signed at age 18 must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years or older have to be protected within four seasons. Clubs pay $50,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, slated to take place on Thursday, Dec. 12. If that player doesn’t stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $25,000.
In other words, an international player or high school draftee signed in 2009, assuming they were 18 or under as of June 5 of that year, must be protected. A college player taken in the 2010 Draft is in the same boat.
Among the Rule 5 eligible players for the Indians are right-handers Joseph Colon, Tyler Holt, Bryce Stowell, Enosil Tejeda and Giovanny Urshela; lefties Elvis Araujo, Matt Packer and Giovanni Soto; first baseman Chun Chen; outfielder LeVon Washington; and catcher Alex Monsalve.