Fantasy Baseball: Why Daniel Murphy's Power Surge Is Legit
Even after his otherworldly 2015 postseason performance, NFBC Average Draft Position (ADP) from last year had him getting selected around the end of the 14th round in 12-team fantasy leagues.
What a difference a year makes.
The biggest question for Murphy ahead of 2017 is if his breakout -- specifically in the power department -- is sustainable, and there’s no reason to think it isn’t.
We Should’ve Seen This Coming
When discussing Murphy’s power surge, many point directly to his insane 2015 postseason with the New York Mets during their run to the World Series. That makes sense -- watching him post a .328/.391/.724 slash line with 7 home runs in just 58 at-bats didn’t feel real at times.
However, the change in the second baseman’s approach at the plate began during spring training in 2015 while he was working with hitting coach Kevin Long. It took a while for things to start clicking, but it didn’t start in October – the results began showing in August.
If it weren't for an equally otherworldly two-month stretch from teammate Yoenis Cespedes (.942 OPS with 17 homers and 44 RBI's in 230 at-bats), more people probably would’ve noticed.
June is an outlier because of a very small sample size, but Murphy started to show consistency in his power over the final two months of the 2015 regular season.
His monster postseason was set up by hitting 8 of his 14 regular-season homers in August and September, along with two straight months of a .200-plus ISO for a hitter who never posted one higher than .161 over the course of a full season prior to 2015.
The Important Things Haven’t Changed Much
Before transforming himself at the plate, Murphy was a contact hitter who didn’t walk very often, but he was also incredibly tough to strike out.
With an increase in power, one would imagine the strikeouts would at least slightly rise, but that’s not the case. Compared to the last year before he made this shift in approach (2014), his plate discipline numbers have actually gotten better (courtesy of FanGraphs).
He’s been a little harder to strike out over the past couple years compared to the rest of his career while his overall contact rate has remained relatively similar.
It’s also interesting to note that while he’s not going after as many pitches within the strike zone (Z-Swing%) than the past, his contact rate in those situations have stayed around 95%.
The Nationals -- and fantasy baseball teams all over -- are basically getting the same Daniel Murphy from before. However, there’s an added benefit of him now being a feared middle-of-the-order run producer with plenty of pop.
The important things haven’t changed. These results don’t just come out of nowhere, though.
What Has Changed
Murphy’s shift in his mental approach at the plate focused on doing more damage. Instead of poking a single through a hole, he wanted to put a swing on something he could drive.
The areas he saw the biggest jump in results with this new mindset were his pull rate and hard-hit rate (Hard%), which have taken huge jumps compared to previous years.
Prior to 2015, Murphy had never posted a pull rate higher than 35.6%, which he did in 2009. As we can see, that number has surpassed 40% in each of the last two seasons.
There was a similar rise in his hard-hit rate -- from 2008 to 2014, he surpassed the 30% mark just twice before the above spike in production.
When looking for pitches to do damage with, it's pretty clear Murphy was targeting four-seam fastballs as his progression from 2014 to 2016 displays (statistics courtesy of Brooks Baseball). Murphy did some serious work against heaters last year.
While Murphy didn’t quite put everything together in 2015 until late in the year, that’s when he laid the foundation for this power breakout.
These advanced statistics are a great way to see the second baseman's transformation, but fantasy baseball owners are really only interested in whether or not his rise from being a 14th-round pick to a 3rd-round pick is justified.
After all, he smashed his previous career highs in just about every offensive category last year by slashing .347/.390/.595 with 25 homers, 104 RBI's and 88 runs scored, which could make some think regression is on the way. Even if there is some regression, there's a good chance the increased power numbers are sustainable, given the lineup he's hitting in.
According to Roster Resource, he’s projected to be Washington’s number three hitter. Adam Eaton and Trea Turner will be setting the table in front of him, while some dude named Bryce Harper is protecting him in the cleanup spot.
Murphy’s Steamer projection shows a rather healthy .317/.362/.482 anticipated slash line for 2017, but it’s a little conservative on the power production (14 homers and 76 RBI's). Although he’s only done it once, Murphy has proved he can be a legitimate 20-homer, 90-RBI bat because of how consistent he's been since August 2015.
He’s easily worth his current ADP. Producing at this rate while playing second base makes him an even more valuable commodity, one you won’t want to pass up if given the opportunity to draft.