Matt Murton deserves another chance. Despite a .286/.352/.436 slash line over his major league career, Murton was sold to the Hanshin Tigers of the NPB in 2009. In his rookie season, Murton batted .349 and broke Ichiro Suzuki’s record for most hits in a season. He didn’t disappoint in his sophomore follow-up, batting .311 with 13 home runs, and a .339 on-base percentage.
Major League Baseball has recently seen former castoffs return to the States and revive their once promising careers, and many expected Murton to at least test the waters this off-season. With reports of Murton returning to Japan in 2012, major league teams may have just lost the opportunity at employing the next Colby Lewis/Ryan Vogelsong.
While Murton’s performance overseas is certainly impressive, it’s tough to say how much those stats would transfer back in the United States. There would certainly be a drop-off — as talent in Japan isn’t as strong as the talent in MLB — but the disparity between the two leagues might not be as drastic as you think. According to our resident NBP guru, Patrick Newman, the skill set in Japan is somewhere between MLB and AAA. While Murton likely wouldn’t challenge for the batting title in America, his stats would translate enough to make him a useful corner outfielder.
We know this, of course, because Murton was a valuable major league outfielder before he left for Japan. In the only season in which he received significant playing time, Murton hit .297/.365/.444 en route to a 3.3 win season. By comparison, the average left fielder that season hit .274/.346/.449. The Cubs “rewarded” the 24-year-old Murton by making him a part-time player the following season. By 2008, Murton inexplicably found himself toiling away in AAA. Even though Murton was jerked between levels, and received inconsistent playing time in his career in the majors, he still managed to produce 5.9 WAR over 1058 plate appearances.
With offense down in recent seasons, Murton wouldn’t even have to perform up to his major league averages to be an effective corner outfielder in the majors. Last season, major league left fielders hit just .256/.320/.409 — numbers that Murton has shown the ability to succeed over his major league career. While Murton lost two years over in Japan — he’s just 30 years old — and not yet in the decline phase of his career. Murton also posted a 26.3 UZR over his career, so he would likely be able to provide value both in the field and at the plate.
On the open market, it seems likely that Murton would have received a few offers to continue his career in the States. He may have even made a 25-man roster — thus setting the stage for another MLB redemption story. That won’t be the case, however, as it seems likely that Murton will return to the NPB. Those awaiting Murton’s “second act” as a major-leaguer will have to be patient for at least one more season. Thirty MLB teams just lost a valuable corner outfielder to the Hanshin Tigers once again.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.