clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Giants sign free agent catcher Tom Murphy

The Giants get a new backup catcher for Patrick Bailey.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at San Francisco Giants Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman have tag teamed on social media to report that the San Francisco Giants are in agreement with free agent right-handed hitting catcher Tom Murphy on a multi-year deal. And as I was about to hit post, Jeff Passan delivered the chair to the back of their heads with the details:

Update at 5:42pm:

I checked and Murphy’s reps aren’t connected to Yoshinobu Yamamoto so this, regrettably, shouldn’t be considered an anticipatory move. It is technically Murphy’s second stint with the Giants, as he was claimed off waivers back in 2019 only to be DFA’d a few days later and eventually traded to the Mariners where he’s played the last three seasons (he missed all of 2020 with a fractured foot). At the time of the claim, I noted:

Murphy (no relation) hits for a lot of power — .532 slugging in 7 minor league seasons, .439 slugging in 196 major league at bats, and .607 slugging with three home runs in 31 spring plate appearances — and is average on defense. Fangraphs has his framing runs and defensive runs saved both as just a little under 0 for this career. Negative to be sure, but negligibly, and he’s young enough (turns 28 in April) to improve.

[...]

That power is tantalizing, and it’s possible the Giants just added a guy they saw as an upgrade to the roster, position be damned. I like the power potential here. He’s hit 93 home runs in seven pro seasons and 10 in just 81 MLB games. Also, his blue eyes are hypnotic.

Still, this is Farhan Zaidi we’re talking about. Nothing has been settled. Don’t get too attached.

Prophetic! Let’s see how much of that analysis holds up four years later:

Murphy’s 2019 was a spectacular success. In a backup role of 75 games (281 PA), he hit .273/.324/.535 (.858 OPS) with 18 home runs. His T-Mobile Park line was .288/.336/.512 (.848 OPS) with 6 home runs and 8 doubles in 134 PA. His home OPSes of the last three seasons are equally compelling:

2021: .210/.327/.442 (.769 OPS)
2022: .400/.526/.467 (.993 OPS)***
2023: .290/.357/.553 (.910 OPS)***

Ah, the big caveat here is that he’s played in just 61 games the past two season (201 PA). After that foot fracture that knocked him out of the COVID-shortened season, he wound up on the IL in 2022 with a dislocated left shoulder and in 2023 he missed the last month and a half with a left thumb sprain. He turns 33 on April 3rd.

As Passan notes, this is a move to shore up the backup position behind Gold Glove finalist Patrick Bailey, and he provides the Giants with tremendous thump from the right side, a power side that is not hindered by Oracle Park — it might actually be helped.

I mentioned those T-Mobile Park numbers because according to Statcast, it has been worse to hitters over the past three seasons than Oracle Park. If he can stay healthy, his bat can be a threat. Last year, his expected slugging percentage was .498 and his hard hit rate was 44.7% (career average: 41%). To put both in perspective: 44% is around where Mike Yastrzemski and J.T. Realmuto were last season and 41% is in the Corbin Carroll and Orlando Arcia range. His 2021-2023 line is solid to good, if you’re grading on a scale of league average to what the Giants have run out there the past three seasons:

158 games
526 PA
20 HR
52 RBI
58 BB (11%)
156 K (30%)
.237/.324/.418

Defensively, Statcast was not been a fan of his work, tagging him with a -3 framing runs last season and a -4 combined from 2021-2023. Patrick Bailey was +16. Last year was the first season where he was simply just a bad defender. In addition to the bad Statcast percentiles, FanGraphs rated him -3.9 Defensive Runs Above Average. It will be up to the Giants to make sure that it wasn’t a 1-year fluke.

Still, this is the inverse of the Roberto Perez signing, where the team grabbed him for a season with the intention of him serving as Joey Bart’s backup, but knowing full well that he wasn’t going to provide a lick of hitting. There’s defensive skill from the past here the Giants will hope to bring back and pair with batted ball power that’s been stable his whole career.

What does this mean for Joey Bart and, to a lesser extent, Blake Sabol? It reduces the urgency for Blake Sabol to improve as a backup catcher, for one thing. That’s good, because although he improved last season, he seemed to reach a developmental plateau pretty quickly and even had some negative regression towards the end of the season. Meanwhile, Bart’s days have seemingly been numbered since Patrick Bailey’s callup, and with no option years remaining his fate (and roster spot) seems destined for a new team.