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Sean Murphy is more than a defensive first player

Murphy should be a valuable offensive contributor for the Braves in 2023.

Puerto Rico v Atlanta Braves Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves key offseason acquisition, Sean Murphy, is constantly lauded as one of the best defensive catchers in the MLB. His ability to call a game, command a pitching staff, frame pitches and control the running game is second to none. He is viewed as a glove first player and rightfully so because of how good he is behind the dish. But Murphy is not a glove dependent player, he can handle himself at the dish as well which does not get talked about nearly enough. Down below we are going to evaluate just how underrated Murphy is as a hitter and whether or not he is one of the best offensive catchers in the league.

When looking at Murphy’s quality of contact numbers and expected metrics that are a few numbers that are around average. Although, there are also a few that should be getting Braves fans excited. His average exit velocity of 88.7 MPH is relatively uninspiring as it sits in the 43rd percentile. Additionally, his hard-hit percentage of 41.4 percent, which sits in the 59th percentile is nice but does not strike fear into the heart of opponents. Those two numbers aside, when looking at expected metrics and a park adjusted analytic, Murphy more than holds his own in the second-tier offensive catchers.

Sean Murphy vs Alejandro Kirk and Will Smith

2022 stats Sean Murphy Alejandro Kirk Will Smith
2022 stats Sean Murphy Alejandro Kirk Will Smith
xBA 0.255 0.278 0.257
xSLG 0.439 0.431 0.473
xwOBA 0.344 0.351 0.352
wRc+ 122 129 127

He is not on the level of Willson Contreras and J.T. Realmuto. Those two catchers are in a class of their own offensively and continue to give the production of a right fielder or third baseman rather than a catcher. But the tier below the duo that features the likes of Will Smith and Alejandro Kirk, both of whom are viewed as very strong offensive catchers, should also feature Sean Murphy.

In terms of his plate discipline, Murphy is good but not great, but there was considerable improvement in multiple key areas from 2021 to 2022.

Sean murphy plate discipline

Stats 2021 2022
Stats 2021 2022
K% 25.40% 20.30%
BB% 8.90% 8.90%
Chase contact 51.60% 61.10%
Whiff rate 27.80% 24%

The chart above Murphy is still making significant gains as a hitter. Despite the former Oakland Athletic entering his age 28 season and having 4 years of experience under his belt, he only has 1,099 careers at bats. That’s not a nearly as many as the average 28-year-old or 4-year vet meaning he can still continue to get better even in 2023.

Another thing of note for Murphy is the change in stadium he is making. The Oakland Coliseum, his former home stadium, was well known for having expansive foul territory on both sides of the field. This certainly resulted in foul outs that would’ve been in the seats in every other stadium, dragging his average down. Additionally, the outfield at the Coliseum is sizable, that’s not to say Truist Park doesn’t have a large outfield, but the Coliseum is notorious for robbing home runs. Since debuting, when placing all of Murphy’s fly balls and line drives in the Oakland Coliseum he would have an expected home run total of 43. Had he played all of his games in Atlanta over that time frame it would be 46. Not a considerable uptick but an increase, nonetheless.

Murphy could also look to increase his flyball percentage from 42.1 percent for the reasons listed above. If he works the ball in the air more, it will result in more homers and better expected metrics which could lead to a career season in 2023.

With everything above in mind, Murphy is a better offensive player than he credits for. When Atlanta originally traded for him, it was met by some pause nationally. There was confusion as to why Atlanta would downgrade offensively to upgrade defensively, when in actuality it might’ve actually been an upgrade in both departments.

All stats courtesy of Baseball Savant and Fangraphs

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