The emergence of David Murphy

The philosophy for the American League-leading Texas Rangers has been pretty simple so far this season: let our pitching keep us in the game and wait for the big bats to produce at the right times. How else do you explain a team with 83 wins and the 12th-best ERA (3.87) in all of baseball?

The Rangers lead the majors in runs and batting average and are second in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. While most of the glory has gone to the MVP-caliber seasons of Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre, the emergence of David Murphy in the No. 7 spot has provided a big spark to their lineup.

Just going by appearances alone, Murphy should not be doing what he’s doing. At 6-foot-4 and a slender 205 pounds, Murphy, who draws a slight resemblance to Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, looks more like he should be dominating his company softball league than some of the best pitching in the AL. He would have a hard time passing the eye test with some of the old-school scouts from Moneyball.

This season he’s proving that looks can be deceiving while putting up numbers of .314/.393/.495, including a .345/.406/.508 line since the All-Star break that includes the sixth-best batting average in baseball. His 3.0 WAR ranks better than All-Stars such as Derek Jeter, Billy Butler and Adam Jones.

What’s more impressive is that Murphy, a left-handed hitter, is hitting .381 with an OPS of .889 against left-handed pitchers while still hitting .301 with all of his 13 home runs against righties. He has also come through in the clutch, hitting .405 with an OPS of 1.174 with runners in scoring position.

When you look at Murphy’s approach to hitting, he does nothing to overwhelm you. He doesn’t take big hacks at the first pitch he sees like Hamilton and Beltre. Instead, he’s patient and does a great job of protecting the plate, hitting .329 after getting behind 0-2 in the count. In fact, it seems like most of his hits come from him simply throwing the barrel of the bat at a ball out of the zone and driving it for a single.

Murphy is also a surprisingly good fielder, recording only one error so far this season and tied for fifth with a .994 fielding percentage among all left fielders.

Murphy, who was taken No. 17 overall by the Red Sox in the 2003 draft, hasn’t exactly had the ideal career of a first-round pick. At age 30, he has played in only 686 games, boasting a career .286 average with 71 homers and 312 runs batted in. During his time with Texas, he’s often been considered the no. 4 outfielder and even started this season behind Craig Gentry on the depth chart. Then he got hot, batting .356 in June and never having a month since then in which he’s hit below .310.

At just $3.63 million this year, Texas is getting quite a deal for Murphy, and with one more year of arbitration, he could affect how the Rangers handle this offseason. With Hamilton ready to take the highest offer at the end of this season, team President Nolan Ryan and GM John Daniels have to decide just how much they’re willing to spend for the fan-favorite slugger.

With Murphy’s improving numbers, along with the emergence of 24-year-old center fielder Leonys Martin and rumors of moving Ian Kinsler to center to make room for super prospect Jurickson Profar in the infield, Ryan and Daniels might not feel so bad about letting an inconsistent (and aging) Hamilton walk.

Murphy might not be a household name, but look for plenty of teams to be interested in him once his contract comes off the books in 2014. His play over the past few months has helped the Rangers remain in the driver’s seat in the AL despite down years from Michael Young and Nelson Cruz. If he continues to hit this well in the No. 7 spot, the Rangers could hit their way back to the World Series for a third straight year.

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