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Murphy made his mark in Seattle in 2019

@gregjohnsmlb
October 11, 2019

SEATTLE -- When catcher Tom Murphy was acquired by general manager Jerry Dipoto in the first week of the season after being designated for assignment by the Giants, the move was met mostly by shrugs and some grumbling about why Seattle had given up on backup David Freitas. But the

SEATTLE -- When catcher Tom Murphy was acquired by general manager Jerry Dipoto in the first week of the season after being designated for assignment by the Giants, the move was met mostly by shrugs and some grumbling about why Seattle had given up on backup David Freitas.

But the 28-year-old turned out to be one of the biggest and brightest discoveries in a season where a Major League-record 67 players rolled through the Mariners’ clubhouse. Despite playing only 75 games, Murphy led the Mariners' position players in fWAR at 3.2, thanks to strong production both at the plate and behind it.

The only catchers with higher fWAR totals were J.T. Realmuto of the Phillies (5.7), Yasmani Grandal of the Brewers (5.2), Mitch Garver of the Twins (3.9) and Christian Vazquez of the Red Sox (3.5). While teammate Omar Narváez also posted a strong offensive season, his defensive shortcomings lowered his fWAR to 1.8.

In 281 plate appearances, Murphy slugged 18 home runs and posted a .273/.324/.535 line, while ranking 12th among all MLB catchers in FanGraph’s Defensive Runs Saved metric at 6. Narvaez was the Mariners’ most-productive hitter, but he was 112th of 113 MLB catchers at minus-20 in Defensive Runs Saved.

Murphy proved to be one of the better pitch framers in the league and a good defensive catcher who impressed the Mariners with his work ethic and drive. He has gone from a castoff of the Rockies and Giants to an integral part of Seattle’s future plans.

“Just getting this opportunity was literally everything to me,” Murphy said. “This feels almost like the start of my career right now.”

What Went Right?

Murphy arrived in Seattle in the opening homestand of the season with an open mind and a desire to improve after getting limited opportunities in four seasons in Colorado and then being DFA’d by both the Rockies and Giants. Just back from Tokyo, the Mariners were pushing their “kaizen” -- the Japanese word for daily or constant improvement -- and Murphy grabbed hold of that and the chance to work with Mariners hitting coach Tim Laker.

“That immediately had an impact on me, and it’s probably the one word I’d use to describe my daily process,” Murphy said. “I came in with that mindset every single day. And, luckily, I had people around me to help me not be a finished product, but much closer to a finished product than I ever have been.”

Murphy quickly established himself as perfect platoon partner for the left-handed hitting Narvaez. He crushed southpaw pitching to the tune of a .347/.408/.695 line with 11 homers in 130 plate appearances while re-doing his swing path and hitting approach.

“Of all the players I’ve ever been around, he made the most change in his game from day one of the season to where he’s at now than anybody I’ve ever seen in the middle of a season,” manager Scott Servais said. “I’ve seen a lot of guys change things in the offseason, and it plays out. But in the course of a year, what he did from where he started to where he’s at right now was an unbelievable change.”

What Went Wrong?

Once given the opportunity, Murphy didn’t show many shortcomings. He stayed healthy throughout the year and was one of the most consistent players on the club. But if you’re looking for one thing that could have made Murphy’s season even better, he hit .200/.269/.450 with runners in scoring position, which is why he totaled just 40 RBIs, even with his 18 homers and team-leading .535 slugging percent.

Best Moment

Murphy had a week to remember from Aug. 13-20 when he homered in four straight road starts against the Tigers, Blue Jays and Rays, going 8-for-16 with six home runs, a double and 10 RBIs in four Mariners wins.

2020 Outlook

Given his defensive advantage over Narvaez, Murphy certainly could earn even more playing time next season. It’s not out of the question for the Mariners to trade Narvaez and hand the reins to Murphy and the versatile Austin Nola, with young Cal Raleigh waiting in the wings as fast-rising prospect (No. 7, per MLB Pipeline).

But Murphy was protected this year by limiting his exposure to right-handed pitching. He posted just a .211/.252/.401 line in 151 plate appearances against righties, which is why the platoon worked so well. Murphy has proven to be a quick study and extremely hard worker, however, and it’s not hard to imagine him getting more playing time next season as he continues progressing.

“He’s going to be a huge piece for us going forward,” Servais said. “I think he’s a great leader, and not just by example. He has a voice and a very quick wit about him, and the other guys appreciate it. He’s not afraid to speak up. It took him awhile -- it wasn’t that way when he showed up three days into the season. He kind of matriculated into that. But again, credit to him and the work he put in.”

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.