David Murphy isn’t a star. The former first-round draft pick — 17th overall by the Red Sox in 2003 — has never been able to establish himself as more than a solid player. Coming into the season, his high-water marks included an .806 OPS and 2 WAR. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t getting better.
Murphy now is having a career year in Texas. Entrenched as an everyday cog in a star-studded Rangers lineup, the 30-year-old outfielder is hitting .298/.379/.475, with 10 home runs. Once considered a liability against left-handed pitchers, he’s hitting .372 against them this season.
Murphy, who came to Texas at the 2007 trade deadline, discussed his career and his evolution as a hitter.
Murphy on getting an opportunity: “I was a high draft pick, but realized pretty early on — a few years into my minor-league career — that it was going to be tough to get to the big leagues with the Red Sox and stay there. Getting traded was the best possible opportunity for me. I had a chance to establish myself as a big-league player the second I got to Texas, and fortunately, I was able to take advantage. Since then, the team has gone nowhere but up. To be able to say that I’ve played in two World Series in my first four full years in the big leagues is something that not many guys can.
“I didn’t really care about it being a big-market environment in Boston, but from my perspective, as an outfielder, I was going to have to put up monster minor-league numbers in order to be looked at as an everyday type of player. That was definitely discouraging at times. I just wanted an opportunity to be up on the big league club and seeing what I could do, and it felt like I wasn’t going to get that chance anytime soon. My best opportunity was going to come with another organization, and I’m happy that it turned out to be the Rangers.”
On developing as a hitter: “At the time, there was still a lot I needed to learn about hitting. I also needed to grow up a little bit mentally. I think that God took care of me; He put me in the right place. Once I came over to Texas, I had a chance to work with Rudy Jaramillo and learned a lot about hitting — and about myself as a hitter. I feel like I’ve gotten better mentally as a hitter over the years as well.
“Rudy helped me mechanically. There were some things that I didn’t know how to put into words. Rudy had everything mapped out. He’s got his five steps, and that simple process helped me to learn a lot about my own swing. What I was doing wrong, what I was doing right, where I needed to be more consistent, the adjustments I needed to make at the plate. I would make adjustments here or there when I was in the minor leagues, but sometimes it would take a few days, or even a week, or weeks. At the big-league level, you need to make adjustments on the fly.”
On hitting for power: “When I was a minor-leaguer, I think I showed that I had power during batting practice. I could just never translate it into the game. I think just being able to stay on my back side more — I am naturally more of a front-foot hitter, and if I don’t consciously focus on it, I come off my back side. If you look at any good hitter — any good power hitter — something they have in common is that they’re able to stay on their back side very well. The more consistently that I was able to use my back side, the better I got.
“I think I have the power to hit plenty more home runs, but I have a flat swing, and that’s not something you can do: go out there and try to hit home runs. Maybe the better hitters do it. My home runs come when I’m looking to hit a single up the middle, and the pitcher leaves a pitch up in the zone. I put a good swing on it and the ball leaves the park. Maybe if I do take that next step, and continue to get better, I can be that guy who hits more home runs. It’s something I feel I’m capable of, but I can’t go out there and try to do it. I’m not going to put pressure on myself to be that guy. I know who I am right now.”
On hitting against left-handed pitchers: “I know that if you look at my career splits, you’ll see a lot more success against righties than you do against lefties. That’s something I haven’t given up on. I may not have the same type of impact against a left-handed pitcher that I do a right-handed pitcher, but I still, at this point, I’m fine with just hitting down in the lineup. I feel like I’m able to keep the line moving. I can have a good at bat. Hopefully I can continue to take the next step against lefties as well.
“In terms of how I feel about myself — as to whether I’m a smarter hitter and a better hitter overall — I feel that I am. It’s just a matter of putting it all together and contributing as much as possible. At the end of the day, I feel that I’m getting better.”
On being in the lineup: “Over the past few years, it hasn’t necessarily been that I haven’t been qualified to play every day. Some days I haven’t been playing well, or I’m going through a slump and somebody else deserves to be in the lineup more than me. That’s completely understandable. Other days I’ve been qualified to be in the lineup, it’s just that if they want to put Josh Hamilton — as great a player as he is — in left field, and that makes it pretty difficult for me to find time.
“With guys as good as Josh and Nelson Cruz on the corners — and the fact that I’m not an everyday centerfielder — I just try to take the mindset that I love my coaching staff, I love my teammates and I will play any role that is asked of me. I’m playing on a great team and I love being part of this group of guys.”
Murphy’s contributions extend beyond the playing field. The value of clubhouse chemistry is hard to measure, but there is no disputing his reputation and popularity among his peers. Four teammates — two current, and two former — shared their opinions of ’Murph” as both a player and a person:
JOSH HAMILTON: “David Murphy is a player that could be starting for any major league team. He has that type of ability, and not only is he a great player, he’s a great person. He’s somebody who works hard, not only on the field, but in the weight room. Off the field, he’s great with the fans, and he’s a great father and husband. He’s somebody I look up to.”
MICHAEL YOUNG: “Murph? He’s got a long face and he eats a lot. Murph is one of our favorite guys around here. He’s always in a good mood. He’s a really good hitter, and he’s also a great teammate. Everyone in here thinks highly of him. When he’s out there every day, he’s a productive player.”
CLAY BUCHHOLZ: “I had the privilege of playing with Murph for a couple of years, in Triple-A, and he’s just an awesome guy. Needless to say, he’s a really freakish baseball player. He can hit for power, he can hit for average, he can run and is a good outfielder. He also hits everything I throw up there. It doesn’t matter which pitch I throw. He’s a good mistake hitter and he’ll also mix in some big hits when you make good pitches to him. He’s done that to me a couple of times.”
[Editor’s note: Murphy is 8-for-11 against Buchholz, with one home run.]
DUSTIN PEDROIA: “Great guy, great teammate, great player, lousy card player. He plays every outfield position and is a good outfielder. He’s playing every day now, and he’s doing a great job. He’s a great player, man. He was fun to play with. When you first come up, you bond with guys. He was a year in front of me, and he was awesome to be around. Everything about him is first-class. Great guy, just can‘t play cards.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.