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When a player has a career year, the task is to figure out if it was an outlier or a new baseline. It's easy to say regression, but how much regression? In some cases, there might not any regression.
One of the players to decipher is Daniel Murphy. The Nationals second baseman, who also has eligibility at first base, is coming off his best season after signing a free agent deal with the Nationals.
Murphy batted .347 with 88 runs, 25 home runs, 104 RBIs, five stolen bases and a .985 OPS in 142 games. Murphy's previous high for home runs was 14 with the Mets in 2015.
Murphy has always been a good hitter. He is a career .296 hitter and he consistently puts the ball in play. His career strikeout rate is 11.8 percent and over the last two seasons, he struck out 7.1 percent of the time in 2015 and 9.8 percent last year.
Where did the power come from? It started to develop in 2015. Murphy changed his swing and started to drive the ball a lot more. He hit nine of his 14 home runs in the second half of 2015. Then of course, there was his memorable postseason performance.
He set a MLB postseason record with a home run in six straight games. He hit seven home runs in that postseason and they came against Clayton Kershaw (twice), Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Zack Greinke.
All the signs point to Murphy being legit and can come close to duplicating what he did last season. The fly ball rate was a career best at 41.9 percent and increased for the second straight season. He had a career-high hard hit rate of 38.2 percent. The HR/FB rate wasn't a complete outlier. He had a 12.4 percent HR/FB rate after an 8.3 percent mark in 2015.
The one area a repeat isn't expected is the batting average, a category that can fluctuate greatly from year to year. Murphy had a .348 BABIP last season and his career mark is .318, so he wasn't too far off. He had a BABIP of .345 in 109 games in 2011. Murphy should hit .300 again and top 20 home runs.
Many will doubt Murphy and immediately say it's not repeatable, but it is. The breakout started in the second half of 2015. He had an .853 OPS in his final 50 games of 2015 and led the National League in OPS last season.
Murphy has always been a good hitter, but it was more for average. He unlocked the power beginning late in the 2015 season and it's when he started to pull the ball more. Murphy still hits to all fields, but he pulled the ball 40.7 percent of the time in 2015 and 41.3 percent last year.
Last season wasn't a fluke. Murphy is the real deal.