Despite having a stellar trio of catchers, Alex Anthopoulos saw an opportunity to improve the team and acquired Sean Murphy in a blockbuster trade. The Braves landed the 28-year-old while shipping a slew of prospects to Oakland and William Contreras to Milwaukee. Seeing Wild Bill succeed with the Brewers will inevitably hurt because he’s a favorite in Braves Country, but Murphy is undoubtedly an upgrade as a player.
In 2022, he led all catchers in the American League in hits, doubles, RBIs, and total bases while posting the second most home runs and runs scored. Murphy had a .250 batting average with 57 extra-base hits, 18 home runs, a .759 OPS and 120 OPS+ in 148 games. However, away from a notoriously vast Oakland Coliseum, his numbers improve dramatically.
Murphy slashed .226/.319/.383 with 7 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. And his career splits paint the same story.
When playing in the Oakland Coliseum, Murphy has hit .213/.319/.368, 17 home runs in 159 games. And everywhere else, he’s hit .256/.334/.484, 29 homers in 166 games. Moreover, Atlanta is 15th in homerun park factors for right-handed batters over the last three years. Oakland is 30th over that period. One would think his offensive numbers should improve in a more hitter-friendly Truist Park.
The Braves are getting an above-average offensive player in Murphy, but the reason for his acquisition’s high price is his defensive prowess. The former third-round pick is a Gold Glove player at a premium position.
“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. It’s safe to say his calling card is his glove.
There’s no question Sean Murphy’s impact is far more significant than Contreras, who is a well-below-average player behind the plate. Since 2020, Murphy has compiled 10 WAR, according to FanGraphs, ranking second among all catchers. Last season, he posted a 5.1 WAR, leading the AL. And his intangibles align are equally attractive. He’s the total package, on and off the field.
“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.”
He’s incredibly durable too, catching 116 games last season, another metric leading the AL. Murphy will certainly catch more games than Travis d’Arnaud, a veteran with a lengthy injury history. And to make that reality even more enticing, Murphy is much more effective offensively when he’s catching. In 30 games last year as a DH, he hit .179 with a .584 OPS. In the 116 he caught, Murphy hit .269 with 16 home runs, an .805 OPS, and an eye-popping 142 OPS+ — unreal production for a catcher.
Wild Bill Contreras was a fan favorite and looked prime to lock down the DH role for the foreseeable future, but it’s very clear what the club sees in Sean Murphy. The Braves got better with this trade, folks.
“It’s always hard to make trades, it’s always hard to trade guys away,” Anthopoulos said. “It’s just a rare opportunity to get a premium defensive player at a premium position. But it’s tough. I mean, we gave up a lot of really talented guys that we really like. But we look at Sean and how he fits with this core, with this group, it’s just a really good fit.”
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