The Rise and Fall of Dale Murphy and the Abstracts
Reader Tom Meagher of The Fourth Outfielder Baseball Blog, a terrific site "about baseball in general and the Los Angeles Dodgers in particular" sent me the following email in response to the Abstracts From The Abstracts series:
I wanted to point out something I realized from your Abstracts series. James clearly loved Dale Murphy, with the one word "Cooperstown" description in the '88 abstract being but one manifestation. Well, when he wrote that there probably wasn't any debate about Murphy's Cooperstown credentials; his peak was easily good enough. But in '88, Murphy's production fell off a cliff. Murphy's first full season in the majors was '77, the year of the first abstract. His first great season was '82, the year of the first abstract not home-published. And the year of his sudden decline was when James stopped writing the abstracts! The James curse?
Interestingly, here is what Bill had to say about Dale in The Baseball Book 1990:
A lot of people have asked me whether I think Dale Murphy can come back, but I don't really have an opinion about it. I won't be drafting him this year, and if he gets traded out of Atlanta his numbers could quickly slide to where he earns his release.
Murphy was traded by the Braves to the Philadelphia Phillies that August. He had one of the ten highest salaries in baseball at the time, and it was essentially a salary dump.
In The Baseball Book 1991, James asked "What are (Murphy's) Hall of Fame chances? What's the best year he's going to have from now on?"
Murphy will probably go into the Hall of Fame without much of a fight. He is not overwhelmingly qualified, like Pete Rose or Mike Schmidt or George Brett, but he is in the strong part of the gray area, and likely to annex enough career totals to push him even higher. Murphy has done more than 40 things which would be characteristic of a Hall of Famer.
Murphy has a huge platoon differential. Last year against left-handers he hit .311 with a .617 slugging percentage, whereas against right-handers he hit .214 with a .324 slugging percentage. Although less than one-third of his at bats were against left-handers, most of his home runs (14 of 24) were against lefties. His 1989 data is less dramatic, but even in the 1989 data there is a striking feature, which is that Murphy had a strikeout/walk ratio almost four to one against right-handers, but better than even against left-handers.
Murphy probably should be platooned at this stage of his career, and probably would be a much more effective hitter if he played 130 games a year, half of them against left-handers. It probably hasn't been done simply because he is still The Great Dale Murphy.
Dale actually played 153 games in 1991. Amazingly, he cut down on his strikeouts (from a range of 125-142 the previous seven seasons to a career-low 93 for a 500-AB season) but put up rather mediocre rate stats (.252/.309/.415) in his first full year with the Phillies.
James listed Murphy as the tenth-best right-fielder in the N.L. in The Baseball Book 1992. Remember, there were only 12 teams in the league back then. The only RF ranked behind Murphy were Kevin Bass (San Francisco) and the infamous platoon combination of Eric Anthony/Mike Simms (Houston).
Just another player now, a cleanup hitter who should hit about seventh. Joe DiMaggio retired when he reached this stage of his career, but we can't expect everybody else to be Joe DiMaggio.
I'll let Bill tell us what happened to Murphy in 1992 in his comments from The Bill James Player Ratings Book 1993.
On the DL April 15 with infection in left knee, back May 7, out for season May 12 after arthroscopic knee surgery. The good news is that nobody took control of his job. The bad news is that there is scant evidence he can still play. He hasn't hit higher than .252 since 1987, can't run, and doesn't connect often enough for his power to justify his overall game.
Even though Murphy retired during the 1993 season, James had these parting comments in his 1994 Player Ratings Book:
Murphy called it quits in May after getting about one hit a week. Murphy's last good year came when he was 31; after that, six years of trying to get it back...The most-similar player to Dale Murphy in all of baseball history is his last manager, Don Baylor. Murphy hit .265 in his career; Baylor, .260. Murphy hit 398 homers, Baylor only 338, but Murphy drove in 1,266 runs, Baylor 1,276.
Although Baylor shows up number three on Murphy's similarity scores, I think that comparison is a little harsh. Murphy not only had a slightly higher career OPS+ (121 to 118), he had four seasons with a higher OPS+ than Baylor's best of 145. Moreover, Murph won five Gold Gloves as a center fielder whereas Baylor appeared in more than half his games as a designated hitter and was inadequate defensively when forced to play one of the corner outfield spots or first base.
Murphy also smokes Baylor across the board when it comes to Bill's Hall of Fame standards. In fact, he exceeds the average HOFer in three of the four measures. Baylor comes up short in all four.
Black Ink: Batting - 31 (54) (Average HOFer ~ 27)
Gray Ink: Batting - 147 (87) (Average HOFer ~ 144)
HOF Standards: Batting - 34.3 (204) (Average HOFer ~ 50)
HOF Monitor: Batting - 115.5 (117) (Likely HOFer > 100)
Overall Rank in parentheses.
Black Ink: Batting - 8 (263) (Average HOFer ~ 27)
Gray Ink: Batting - 67 (353) (Average HOFer ~ 144)
HOF Standards: Batting - 29.5 (298) (Average HOFer ~ 50)
HOF Monitor: Batting - 44.0 (393) (Likely HOFer > 100)
Overall Rank in parentheses.
Although Dale Murphy was no Joe DiMaggio as James once thought, he was no Don Baylor as Bill finally concluded either.