'Playing like a vet,' Murphy in breakout mode

October 5th, 2020

Amidst the influx of exciting rookies arriving on the scene in 2020, A’s rookie catcher tends to get overlooked.

That might change by the time the American League Division Series is over.

Murphy quietly ended the regular season as Oakland’s best hitter. The 25-year-old backstop led the A’s in OPS (1.062) and home runs (five) over the final month, slashing .277/.424/.638 across 16 games in September. So it was no surprise to see the rookie come up big in the A’s Wild Card Series victory over White Sox, going 3-for-8 with two walks and blasting an important two-run homer in Game 3. He also homered in the third inning of Game 1 of the AL Division Series against the Astros on Monday at Dodger Stadium.

“There was definitely some anxiety going on out there, if I’m being honest,” Murphy said of the Wild Card Series. “But it was really just Game 1, and then it kind of melted away after a few innings. It’s the same game we play every day. Once you settle into a game, it feels like any other.”

Maybe it’s his stoic demeanor behind the plate that allows him to go mostly unnoticed. Or perhaps his lack of flashiness on the diamond. Whatever the case, the A’s recognize the value Murphy has brought to the club this season.

“I think one of the reasons that he maybe doesn’t get brought up too much is because it doesn’t feel like he’s a rookie,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s such a big part of both sides -- the pitching end of it and the game-planning end of it, understanding the opponent. He’s way beyond his years and his leadership qualities seemed to increase as the year has gone along. His offense, obviously, has been fantastic.”

Behind the plate, not only does Murphy possess a cannon for an arm, he also has become a supreme game caller. -- who enjoyed a career-best year that saw him post the third lowest ERA (2.29) among AL starters during the regular season -- can attest to that.

“Murph truly calls a great game and approaches the game like he has 10 years of service time,” Bassitt said. “It’s incredible. He’s changed my thought process on needing a veteran catcher, as long as you have a mature, very good catcher as a rookie. Murph is unbelievable.”

Bassitt, a six-year veteran, said he often allows Murphy to override his own pitch selections throughout the course of a game.

“His homework that he does every single game is top of the line,” Bassitt said. “When I have all my pitches kind of working and Murphy is able to toy with hitters the way that he’s doing, it’s a perfect storm.”

Murphy is known as a man of few words around the A’s clubhouse, but he certainly lets his lumber do some loud talking. Four of his seven regular-season home runs traveled at least 422 feet -- including a 464-foot mammoth shot on Sept. 11 at Globe Life Field that registered as the sixth longest home run by an A’s player since 2015.

There’s more to Murphy’s offensive game than just dingers, though. His keen eye at the dish ranks among baseball’s elite with a 17.1 percent walk rate that was third highest among AL hitters with at least 140 plate appearances in the regular season.

So that begs the question, why is Murphy still batting ninth in the A’s lineup?

“He’s doing so much damage where he is and comfortable where he is and it makes our lineup so deep that I’ve been reluctant to move him up,” Melvin said. “It’s a balance of trying to get him up in the lineup some.”

Murphy’s name has not come up much in Rookie of the Year Award conversations despite finishing in a tie for second among Major League rookies with a 1.5 fWAR. But the A’s know what type of impact he could make in the upcoming ALDS against the Astros, and beyond.

“He’s playing more like a veteran,” Melvin said. “I think that’s why you don’t hear about him talked about as a rookie so much.”