We watch playoff baseball in part to see the stars of the game write their legacies. Whether they become legends or eventual disappointments, the October stage grants them a chance to produce the alluring commodity we most crave in this wild month of baseball: narrative.
We know the names. Reggie Jackson; Kirk Gibson; Carlton Fisk. We can see their postseason highlight reels in our heads just by reading the words on the page; we know the accompanying commentator clips so well that the audio plays along with them. They’re more than legends — they’re woven into a historic fabric, embedded in our consciousness as touchstones for the game’s future.
Somewhere in our minds, amid the grocery lists and afternoon meeting agendas, Gibson is pumping his fist as he rounds the bases. Fisk is waving it fair. And a Yankee Stadium crowd is yelling “Reggie. Reggie. Reggie.” They’re all there, because they’re now part of who we are as a collective baseball mind.
And so we come to Daniel Murphy, who’s not yet one of those household names. An important part of the Mets during the past few years, yes, but never what anyone would call a superstar. Only now, after fueling another Mets win in the NLCS over the Chicago Cubs by homering in his fourth consecutive game, he’s becoming something else — a one-man show, a phenomenon, a postseason hero in the making.
This is happening because most professional baseball players are capable of doing extraordinary things for short periods of time. The greatest among them are able to stretch those periods, shortening the downtime between each episode. However, sometimes we need to recognize when someone’s performance is not just a hot streak; oftentimes there have been legitimate improvements made, and those coincide with a streak at just the right moment, like crucial at-bats over a few playoff series. That’s exactly what’s happening to Daniel Murphy, and it’s cause for us to look deeper into the forces behind his incredible run in this year’s playoffs.
To begin with, Murphy made a conscious decision to pull the ball more often in 2015. Take a look at the percentage of balls he has hit to the pull side since 2008 (as a note, he missed all of 2010 due to injury):
Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.