Alex Anthopoulos swung a blockbuster trade and subsequent extension with Sean Murphy in the Braves’ most significant move of the offseason. The 28-year-old led all catchers in the American League in hits, doubles, RBIs, and total bases while posting the second most home runs and runs scored in 2022. He posted 18 home runs and 57 extra base hits with a .250 average and .759 OPS in 148 games.
Moreover, his numbers improve dramatically away from the notoriously vast Oakland Coliseum. Murphy slashed .226/.319/.383 with seven homers and a .702 OPS at home last year. On the road, those numbers ballooned to .272/.345/.467 with 11 home runs and an .812 OPS — more than a 100-point difference in OPS. He should experience more consistent production with the Braves. Atlanta is 15th in homerun park factors for right-handed batters over the last three years. Oakland is 30th over that period.
Sean Murphy is one of the better offensive players at his position, but the reason for his acquisition is his calling card — defense.
“We’re getting a really strong player behind the plate. He’s got ability with the bat. But no doubt his calling card is his glove,” Anthopoulos said.
According to Baseball Savant, his pop time to second base ranked in the 96th percentile last season; that’s elite. Murphy threw out 19 would-be baserunners last season, tied for fifth-most in baseball, while posting a third-best 31.1% caught-stealing percentage. His average pop time of 1.89 seconds trailed only JT Realmuto’s 1.82 mark.
“You look at all the tools — the throwing, the blocking, the hands — all of that is plus,” Anthopoulos said. “He’s a plus defender, and he’s got ability with the bat, he can call a good game and he prepares, and great teammate. All that stuff is very important to us, especially at that position, more than anything else. It’s one that we’ve put a premium on since I got here. We really have a specific skill set that we look for (from catchers). It’s hard to get all of those things. He checks a lot of boxes when it comes to those things.”
The ability to call a game can often be an overlooked aspect of playing catcher to the average baseball fan because there isn’t really a metric that encapsulates the entire impact of the position. That is where Sean Murphy thrives, and the Braves’ pitching staff is set to benefit greatly.
“A little bit of everything,” Murphy said in learning about the Braves pitchers. “What kind of sequences they use, what kind of pitch shapes they have, that’s pretty easy. And then there’s just more of the teammate side and how they tick. How can I get him through a tough inning? How quickly can I recognize something’s off and what’s off, so maybe I can go take a visit and fix it before things get control?”
Calling games as a catcher is at the forefront of his mind; he even went as far as to say he’s not concerned with his offense output if the game is going well defensively.
“I don’t worry about the offense too much,” Murphy said, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I contribute where I can. That’s sort of my approach. I’ve said this before a bunch of times, but I’ll go 0-for-5 every day if we call a shutout. My mood does not depend on whether I got out or not. So I’m trying to get the pitchers through the games and win. And again, anything I contribute offensively is just extra. I still work on these things, but I don’t let the at-bats dictate how I feel about my day, and that I think that helps me.”
The Braves didn’t have poor guidance behind the plate with Travis d’Arnaud, but Sean Murphy is elite in this area. I expect him to take about 70% of the starts behind the plate for the Braves. The Gold Glover is younger, more durable, a better defender, and a more productive hitter when catching. Despite William Contreras’ elite bat, the Braves very clearly value elite defense at a premium position more.
Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire
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