Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Who Is Donnie Murphy?

After reading this article in the Miami Herald, it was learned that the Marlins still haven't announced their starting third baseman. The choices come down to Emilio Bonifacio and Donnie Murphy. This writer's first immediate thought was: "For gosh sakes, don't let it be Bonifacio!" Immediately following that thought was this second thought: "Who the heck is Donnie Murphy?" The article linked above called him the dreaded "J" word: "Journeyman." The article also mentions that Murphy strained nine ligaments in his wrist last year. So far, this isn't looking very good. And then a quick glance at baseball-reference.com showed him to have a 75 OPS+ in limited action over several years. Does that mean the Marlins' decision is between the lesser or two evils?

The first problem is that there are too many Murphys. A total of forty-one men have played in the major leagues with that name. Of the three most recent, they all start their first names with a "D." There's David, Danny and Donnie. How are we supposed to keep all that straight? But Donnie has been around the longest, so you can't blame him. Remember, he's the journeyman. Donnie Murphy, the subject of this post DID have two walk off hits last season before he got hurt. Some guys don't do that in a lifetime. That's impressive. But who is he and is he a better choice than our favorite punching bag in Bonifacio?

Last year's numbers for Murphy show the tremendous danger of not having a good sample size. The good? His slugging was .705 and his OPS was 1.042. If we didn't remember that Murphy only came to the plate 47 times, we might think he was Manny Ramirez at the peak of his career. Murphy also struck out 43 percent of the time. Again, if we weren't cogent of the plate appearances, we might think Murphy makes Mark Reynolds look like a contact hitter. And finally, Murphy only walked 4.3 percent of the time. With that kind of small sample, he looks like Manny Reynolds Molina.

And it doesn't get any easier to look at the career numbers because in  total, he's only had 411 plate appearances spread over five seasons. Nothing would be worth considering from that small a sample size. So we have to look at his minor league record.

Donnie Murphy is one of those rare players that has played better the higher he has risen in professional baseball. He was better in A+ than he was in A. He was better in Double A than he was in A+ and he was better in Triple A than he was in Double A. His Triple A stats show a guy who has some power with 26 homers in 584 plate appearances. He hit for a .290 average. He only walked seven percent of the time, which is a big departure from his earlier minor league days when he got on base more. And he struck out about 23 percent of the time.

So say Donnie Murphy does win the job, how do you project him over 500 at bats? It seems impossible to determine. His on base percentage isn't going to be much better than Bonifacio. But he has power. It would be a pretty good bet that he'd hit over 20 homers in the course of that many at bats. But he'll strike out 130 times or so and he has no speed, the one thing that Bonifacio did have.

Murphy has played mostly short and second base in the minors, but he has played some third. His defense at third should be better than Bonifacio, who was terrible there. But he isn't known as a great fielder. The bottom line here is that Murphy, because of his power has more potential upside than Bonifacio and he should handle third better than our ersatz punching bag. But saying all that, it's not like the Fan would recommend him as a sleeper for anyone's fantasy league team.

At best, the Marlins can hope that Murphy plays decently enough, long enough for Matt Dominguez to get his act together and prove that he's the next big thing for the Marlins at that position. Murphy is known as a hustling player or a grinder as they say. He was hurt making a spectacular play on a pop up. Hustling isn't something the Marlins are known for. Perhaps that alone gives us something to root for.

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