Sean Murphy turning a negative into a positive for Athletics

By MARK SIMON

The Oakland Athletics are likely going to end a streak this season. But it’s not one you probably knew about unless you’re the most diehard tracker of Defensive Runs Saved.

The Athletics finished with a negative Defensive Runs Saved total at catcher in each of the previous nine seasons. That’s a span that encompasses Stephen Vogt, Kurt Suzuki, Josh Phegley, Derek Norris, and many others. But this season, their catchers are likely going to end that run. They have combined to save 5 runs.

The reason why things have turned positive is Sean Murphy.

Murphy made a good enough impression in 13 regular-season starts in 2019 to earn a start in the AL Wild Card game. He’s subsequently turned that into being the Athletics No. 1 catcher in 2020.

Oakland is 22-9 when Murphy starts at catcher this season and 9-10 when anyone else starts. He’s impacted the Athletics with his bat and his glove. His 5 Runs Saved at catcher are only 1 behind MLB leader Jacob Stallings of the Pirates.

Murphy has saved 3 of those 5 runs with his pitch framing (he has 1 run from stolen base prevention and 1 run for our pitching staff-handling metric, Adjusted Earned Runs Saved), continuing a pattern of success shown in his minor league numbers. His approach is one of maneuvering his catch of the ball to make the pitch appear just a little more in/closer to the strike zone than it is.

Here are three examples of how that has come into play.

64% strike probability

38% strike probability

25% strike probability

With third baseman Matt Chapman out for the season, the Athletics need all the defensive help that they can get. Getting it from catcher is a luxury the Athletics haven’t had for a long time.

To learn more about our methodology for Strike Zone Runs Saved, check out this award-winning paper from 2015.

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