Believe it or not, there were some people that did not like when the Atlanta Braves traded this season for Sean Murphy. Sure, the Braves had some other areas that they could have addressed, but let’s take a moment and check in on how this trade is doing so far.
Just to refresh our memory, let’s take a look at the trade itself. There were nine players moved in this swap. To keep things simple, let’s just look at the players leaving and coming to the Braves organization. William Contreras moved from the Braves to the Brewers, while Kyle Muller, Freddy Tarnok, Manny Pina and Royber Salinas went to the A’s. Of course, this landed Sean Murphy for the Braves.
As Alex Anthopoulos said “We definitely gave up a ton … But we got a really good player back. Getting players like that is hard.”
Without even digging into the numbers we can see that Sean Murphy is working out, especially with Travis d’Arnaud being out due to a concussion as well as the Braves’ front office being able to secure Murphy to a long term, seemingly team friendly deal.
Let’s look at the key pieces of this trade.
Sean Murphy outlook
At the time of this writing, Sean Murphy is tied for 3rd among all MLB players in fWAR (1.5) and leads the league in fWAR per game among position players. He is also tied for 7th with Randy Arozarena in MLB in wRC+ (187).
He currently has a slash line of .277/.427/.662 while leading the league in xwOBA, xSLG, and being in the top two percent in MLB in both barrel% and walk rate.
Not bad for a player who is best known for his defense.
We have already seen his cannon of an arm this season where he has thrown out three runners. His pop time in 2022 to 2B was 2nd in MLB (1.89 second), and his pop time to 3B was 1st (1.4 seconds). This year, we do not have enough data yet for pop time to mean much as far as rankings go, but he is in the top eighteen percent in framing.
We could spend an entire article on what has helped Sean Murphy come in scorching hot offensively, but the key seems to be what we have come to know as the Atlanta Braves way. He is sitting back and crushing the fastball.
His xwOBA against the 4-seamer is .784, xSLG is 1.484, xBA is .536, and his hard hit rate is 77.8 percent. These are a much smaller sample size than a full season, but they are all currently career highs. To put this in perspective his run value on the pitch is already at five. For the entire 2022 season he had a run value of four on a 4-seamer.
As can be seen in the chart below, Murphy is limiting chasing fastballs at a career best rate, as well as doing a great job against other pitches, allowing him to zone in and crush pitches in the zone.
His BABIP of .308 is a bit higher than his career .278, showing that he is due for some regression, but based on his XSTATs mentioned above, he is swinging the bat at an elite level.
William Contreras outlook
The one player that fans probably were most sad to see go was William Contreras. He was obviously a fan favorite as evident by the amount of All-Star votes he received.
To his credit, Contreras has done well with the stick in his own right in 2023. He currently holds a slash line of .323/.397/.431 and a wRC+ of 131. This is no 187 like Murphy, but it is still a full 31.0 percent better than league average. As far as fWAR goes, he is at 1.0.
His underlying metrics are impressive too. His xwOBA has been top 27.0 percent in MLB, his xBA top 15.0 percent, xSLG top 35.0 percent, and hard hit rate top 24.0 percent.
He seems to have continued what we have talked about the Atlanta Braves way, and has been crushing the 4-seamer so far. He has an xBA of .405, xSLG of .895, and xwOBA of .587 against it.
He has been a bit fortunate in the BABIP department with a .385, showing he is primed for some regression since his career BABIP is .333. But, like Murphy, his underlying metrics show that he should be just fine should he continue to swing the bat the way that he is.
1.0 fWAR is impressive to this point. It ranks him tied 19th among position players, and 2nd among catchers to none other than Sean Murphy.
His arm up to this season has not been what Murphy’s is with his pop time to 2B being 31st in MLB in 2022 and pop time to 3B being 21st. But, he has done an excellent job framing so far this year being in the top 29.0 percent of MLB.
Kyle Muller outlook
So far, the trade for the A’s has not been optimal. Of course, they were looking to rebuild, so a large portion of their side of the deal were for minor league players that still could use some development.
That being said, Muller flashed signs of being MLB ready in 2022. In 2023, it has not gone his way thus far. The A’s opening day starter has failed to impress. He currently has an ERA+ of 58, which means his adjusted ERA is 42.0 percent below average.
His ERA sits at 7.23, FIP at 5.31, WHIP is 2.028, and he has a paltry 1.31 walk to strikeout rate while averaging 4.9 walks per nine innings to only 6.5 strikeouts.
If you look at his Statcast page, things do not get much better for him. In fact, his xERA of 7.32 is even higher than his actual ERA. The only red you see (meaning in the top half of the league) is his fastball spin rate, which means nothing if hitters are teeing off on it.
He is bottom 9.0 percent in xERA, bottom 3.0 percent in xBA, bottom 12.0 percent in xSLG, bottom 15.0 percent in whiff rate, and bottom 9.0 percent in strikeout rate, just to name a few.
Tarnok is arguably the other big piece in the trade for the A’s that came from the Braves currently being ranked 6th in the A’s prospect rankings in MLB.com’s rankings. Unfortunately, we have not been able to see him pitch this year because he is on the 60-day IL.
There is still a lot of to be seen on this trade. Salinas is ranked 17th in the A’s system for a reason, Tarnok has yet to prove himself, and Manny Piña has yet to play (10-Day IL) . But, Muller has been a disaster thus far.
Contreras has been very good, and the Brewers look to have come out being very happy with the trade that they made.
Ultimately, Murphy so far has been well worth the cost. Sure, Contreras would have been a good player for the Braves up to this point, but even though Contreras is second among catchers in fWAR, Murphy has been in a tier all by himself. His fWAR is a full 50.0 percent higher than Contreras, and his wRC+ has been a full 56.0 percent better.
This was so far has looked like a win-win for the Brewers and Braves. The Athletics may possibly be regretting this move, but time will tell.