Patrick Murphy might be the Toronto Blue Jays organization’s best at limiting home runs thanks to some nice weak contact rates
At this point, many Jays fans are aware of Patrick Murphy‘s story. While he was drafted in the third round of the 2013 draft, he pitched in only four pro innings prior to the 2016 season, due to various injuries and surgeries. He spent 2016 and 2017 pitching primarily with Vancouver (Class A Short Season) and Lansing (Class A). While he generated boatloads of grounders (52.8% GB rate) and avoided the long ball (0.36 HR/9), his strikeout (17.1%) and walk (8.8%) rates were worse-than-average. While clearly capable of generating lots of weak contact, he needed time to shake off the rust completely.
In 2018, his performance rose to another level. Pitching for the Class A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays, he produced the best FIP (3.19) and second-best ERA (2.64) among qualified pitchers in the Florida State League. Eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, the Blue Jays wisely chose to protect him by adding Murphy to the 40-man roster, simultaneously cementing his status as one of the team’s top advanced pitching prospects.
Murphy’s performance in 2018 was impressive in a number of different ways. Let’s start with his runs-against metrics. In 2018, 180 pitchers started at least ten games and pitched in at least 50 innings at the Class A Advanced level. Murphy ranked among the level’s best in terms of ERA (88th percentile), FIP (83rd percentile) and xFIP (3.36, 89th percentile). Almost as impressive as his high ranks in these metrics is his consistency across them, as I’m used to seeing pitchers with divergent ERA/FIP/xFIP levels.
As he did in 2016 and 2017, Murphy relied mainly on generating weak contact, limiting batters to a 0.31 HR/9 (89th percentile). His opponents struggled to take him particularly long, with only 0.3% of the batters he faced hitting a homer that travelled further than 400 feet (75th percentile). He has so effectively limited home runs that Steamer projects him to be capable of producing a HR/9 (0.90) that is better than every other Blue Jays pitcher at the MLB level in 2019.
His underlying batted ball stats are even more impeccable—he generated a tonne of ground balls (59.4%, 98th percentile) and effectively limited both line drives (15%, 91st percentile) and fly balls against (25.7%, 95th percentile). His ground ball rate was the lowest by any Blue Jays SP prospect who pitched at least 50 innings at any level in 2018. Double-A lefty reliever Danny Young (64.3%) was the only Blue Jays prospect that bested Murphy’s mark.
One big difference relative to 2016-17 was Murphy’s improved ability to strike batters out—his 22.5% K rate ranked in the 66th percentile for the level. Combined with a slightly improved walk rate (8.3%, 40th percentile), Murphy was able to produce an above-average mark in the all-important K-BB% metric (14.1%, 61st percentile).
Given the importance of a prospect’s age and level, it’s worth highlighting that Murphy’s age was roughly average for the level—Baseball Reference found no difference between his age and the weighted average age of pitchers at his level. Moreover, among the 180 pitchers in our sample, his age (23) ranked in the 49th percentile. Given the very limited amount of action he saw in his age-18, 19 and 20 seasons, it might be fair to consider him effectively younger than average for his level.
Patrick Murphy has utterly conquered High-A and will face a greater challenge in 2019 at Double-A. He actually got a very brief taste of Double-A in 2018, making an emergency start back in May. He performed well, going six innings and limiting the opposition to two earned runs—a quality start. Out of the 25 batters he faced, he struck out six and generated nine ground balls. The farthest-travelled batted ball he gave up only went 269 feet. If he performs similarly at Double-A in 2019, he might not be long for the level.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.