As we embark on another 162 (or hopefully more!) game journey, I’ve been reading a lot of articles by local journalists/bloggers about their expectations for the upcoming season. One topic I’ve seen recur throughout many articles is a concern over David Murphy, especially after the poor spring he has had. In fact, from the time the Indians signed Murphy in the early offseason, I’ve heard numerous fans question why the Tribe was willing to dish out $6 million a year to a platoon player coming off a horrible season.
It can certainly be argued that the Tribe did not do enough to upgrade their roster this offseason. Their “window of opportunity”, as many smaller market teams refer to, certainly opened up after their surprise 92-win campaign last year. Personally, I do agree that it would have been nice to see them add a piece or two that would help them rise to the next level. Despite last year’s success, the Tribe’s still does not appear to match the firepower of some large-market teams (at least on paper). A right-handed power bat would have surely been a welcome addition to a team that doesn’t really have a “big bat” in the middle of the lineup. Another top of the rotation starter would have certainly made it easier to go head to head with the Tigers. However, after going “all-in” financially last year with Bourn and Swisher, the Tribe was not in a position to make a similar splash this offseason.
What the Indians did try to do was be efficient and effective with the way the spent money. Besides the Murphy signing, the Tribe signed a free agent closer in John Axford without terribly overpaying for him, and they also made a couple efficient long-term extensions with Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes. Let’s take a look at what kind of production the Tribe needs out of Murphy to make their deal relatively effective and efficient.
I’ll be using Bill Felber’s Earned Value Formula to help assess our player value issues. For those of you unfamiliar, here’s Felber’s definition:
Earned Value = (A-B)*C + D
A = Adjusted TPR or TPI
B = League Average Adjusted TPR or TPI at Position
C = League Average Salary at Position/League Average Adjusted TPR or TPI at Position
D = League Average Salary at Position
The formula serves as an indexing tool to assess a player’s value based on typical salaries and performance levels at a player’s respective position. If used correctly, I think the formula actually does a pretty good job of providing a reasonable estimate of player valuations.
I’m going to make a couple tweaks to the formula as well to improve our results. First of all, I’ll use WAR instead of TPI or TPR. Secondly, instead of using all players for “League Average Salary at Position”, I’ll only look at players that have either been signed as free agents or have been signed to a long-term contract. If we did not do this, then young, lower-paid players would skew our results. Thus, we are now comparing apples to apples.
As I said before, I would have loved to see the Tribe go out and sign a right-handed power bat this offseason. Instead they signed super-sub David Murphy to a two-year $12 million contract. Murphy had just come off of a down year with the Rangers in which he hit .220 with a .282 OBP and .374 SLG. Was this a smart move by the Tribe? Well for one, Murphy’s bad luck with the Rangers last year had been well documented:
- His .227 BABIP was 68 points lower than his previous career low, and 75 points below his career average BABIP of .302
- His 12.4% Strikeout Percentage was the best mark of his career
- All of the following statistics stayed pretty consistent with his career averages: BB%, ISO, GB/FB, LD%
Additionally, Murphy was an above average outfielder with a UZR 11.0 last year according to FanGraphs. The average salary for all outfielders under observation was about $7.25 million dollars per season. Additionally the average WAR for all qualified outfielders was about 1.5. Murphy had a WAR of 0.4 last season, but has a career average WAR of 1.5. If we throw away last season, his average WAR per season would have been 1.7.
I think we can expect Murphy to reasonably rebound based on the peripherals I mentioned above. However, I don’t think we’ll see Murphy come back and replicate his 2012 season. Murphy no longer has the luxury of playing his home games in Arlington, where he had a .335 AVG during his career year. Let’s just say that Murphy rebounds back to his career average of 1.7 prior to last season. With a WAR of 1.7 we get the following:
Earned Value = (1.7-1.5)*(7.25/1.5) + 7.25 = 8.22 million dollars
Our results tell us that if Murphy would go on to produce an average WAR of 1.7 over the next two years, the Tribe would save about $2.22 million per season based on Murphy’s worth. However, it probably isn’t the best idea to jump the gun and expect Murphy to automatically rebound to a 1.7 WAR after his showing last season. For the sake of curiosity, let’s solve the Earned Value formula for “A” (Murphy’s WAR) assuming the Earned Value is equal to $6 million. When we do this, we get a WAR of 1.2. Thus, if Murphy gives the Tribe a WAR of 1.2 or above, our Earned Value formula tells us that this would be a bargain deal for the Indians. While even a WAR of 1.2 for Murphy is by no means a sure thing, I think his career peripherals made this deal a risk worth taking from an efficiency standpoint. Now it’s up to Murphy to prove that he was worth the risk.