Or is it David Raburn?
Either way, the Indians will have new platoon in right field this year, with Murphy playing against righties and Raburn playing against lefties.
It’s a bold move by the Indians considering both players are coming off career years (Raburn in a good way, and Murphy in an oh-so-terrible way).
Let’s take a look at what the platoon would have produced for the Tribe in 2013, assuming Raburn started every game against a left-handed starter (56 games) and Murphy started against righties (106 games). To make it simple, we’ll assume 4 PA per game and use all of their 2013 rates against the corresponding handedness of the pitcher they’ll face.
Murphy/Raburn 2013 Platoon: .249 BA, .326 OBP, 27 HR
These aren’t terrible numbers for a No. 6 or No. 7 hitter these days, but this would have been the best-case scenario. This scenario assumes they stay healthy for 162 games and never face a late-inning relief pitcher throwing with the opposite hand. No platoon works this perfectly, so a drop in these numbers would have to be expected.
As previously mentioned, these numbers take an odd combination of a career-year for Raburn, which is obviously unsustainable at age 33, and a career-worst effort from a 32-year-old Murphy, which certainly could be a sign of things to come.
In other words, it’s entirely possible that Raburn comes back down to earth while Murphy remains close to his 2013 performance.
But there’s certainly a chance that Murphy rebounds and gets closer to his solid 2012 performance. So let’s assume Raburn’s performance drops by 25 percent and Murphy’s improves by 25 percent.
Since Murphy will be the primary right fielder, a slight boost in his numbers more than cancels out the expected decline in Raburn’s stats. The new platoon prediction looks like this:
Murphy/Raburn 2014 projected platoon: .259 BA, .338 OBP, 27 HR
These new numbers are closer to living up to the roughly $7.5M they’ll earn in 2013. These stats produce a WAR of roughly 2.5, slightly below Michael Brantley’s 2013 performance (for a historical perspective, it’s basically right in line with Albert Belle’s 1991 campaign).
Realistically, this is probably the scenario the Indians are hoping will develop. It’s not too far fetched, and significantly cheaper than signing one player to fill that role on the open market.
Nelson Cruz, who hit .266 with a .327 OBP and 27 home runs in 2013 would cost significantly more (probably $12M or more per season), if he would even consider coming to Cleveland.
So give the Tribe front office credit for attempting to get the most out of their money.
But platoons are risky. You’re relying on two players to stay healthy (two guys over 30 in this case) and you need both to remain steady throughout the year. And the Indians front office knows the risks all too well.
In 2007 and ’08, the Tribe attempted to piece together a Jason Michaels-David Dellucci platoon in left field.
In theory, it was brilliant. In 2006, Michaels posted a .291/.349/.450 stat line (BA/OBP/Slug) against lefties. Dellucci was coming off a season in which he hit .299/.375/.529 against righties. By combining the two players, the Indians had the potential to create an All-Star caliber left fielder for a fraction of the cost.
But the plan backfired.
The usually steady Dellucci fell flat on his face and never recovered. He was 33, past his prime and just barely hovering around as a replacement-level player.
Michaels held up his end of the bargain with an .800 OPS against lefties. But Dellucci was so awful against any kind of pitching that Michaels was forced to take over the full-time gig. Predictably, Michaels struggled, failing to even drag his OBP above .300 against right-handers.
The Indians recovered by acquiring Kenny Lofton and reinstating a platoon which was highly successful for the final two months of the season. But you don’t always get so lucky.
The Tribe may have a stumbled into a bargain with their new right fielder Murphburn, but if either one of them pulls a Dellucci, the offense will be in trouble and the front office will be left scrambling for a midseason solution.