For One Night, the Mariners’ Best Pitcher Was a Catcher
It’s no secret that pitching has been a struggle for the Seattle Mariners since their offseason roster overhaul. That’s bound to happen when you lose James Paxton and Edwin Diaz, and that says nothing of their losses in Alex Colome, Juan Nicasio, Adam Warren, Nick Vincent, and James Pazos. So it may come as no surprise that, on Saturday, the Mariners found themselves in a 4-18 hole in the ninth inning.
A 14-run deficit is not an easy feat to accomplish (or suffer, rather), but for the Mariners, it’s been a frequent occurrence as of late. Here’s a list of the scores in some Mariners losses, since April 27th:
To reiterate, these aren’t all of the Mariners’ losses. Rather, it’s a list of their worst losses since April 27th. The Mariners have been getting absolutely bludgeoned, and that’s because their pitching is bad. So, so very bad. It seems that every time I check the score of a Mariners game, Asdrubal Cabrera or some other subpar hitter has homered to put his respective team up by half a dozen runs over the Mariners. In December, I wrote about Marco Gonzales—and I’m maybe the biggest Gonzales apologist there is—but all five Mariners starting pitchers are projected for ERAs higher than 4.00 through the rest of the season, and the bullpen is worse than the rotation.
For these reasons, the box score looked like this:
If you’re not a Mariners fan, you probably wouldn’t see anything noteworthy. If you are a Mariners fan, then you might not see anything of note, either. The article title and featured image should have tipped you off, but if you still haven’t figured it out, I’ll spell it out for you: Tom Murphy, the Mariners’ backup catcher, tossed a full frame in the ninth inning. Not only did Murphy pitch an inning but, by the numbers, he was the Mariners’ best pitcher that day. The eye test wasn’t so bad either.
Wade LeBlanc might have said it best himself:
Wade LeBlanc on the Twins: “I want to say that’s the best hitting team I’ve ever faced in my life. That’s how they looked tonight. It wasn’t just me, it was 5 different styles of pitchers we threw at them and they hit everybody except (Tom) Murphy. We should have started him.”
— TJ Cotterill (@TJCotterill) May 19, 2019
LeBlanc is mostly being a good sport here—it was his first start since straining his oblique. But he’s right—the Minnesota Twins hit everyone, except for Murphy.
At this point, position players pitching isn’t all that weird. Now, Murphy didn’t actually come into the game as a pitcher, nor did he come into the game in his usual spot at catcher. Before he pitched the ninth, Murphy made his debut as an outfielder. He’s never done more than shag balls during BP in high school, so that’s weird, but Murphy actually ended up having a ball batted at him.
According to Baseball Savant, the hit probability was just 6%, so it could have been much dicier. In any case, Murphy made it look easy enough (as it should look). Viewers who didn’t know any better probably didn’t bat an eye. Later, the Mariners trotted him out to pitch the ninth.
Murphy started off Max Kepler with a slider on the inner half of the plate, which he fouled off. He came back with a fastball on the next pitch, and left it middle-middle:
The hit probability was 47%, which is basically a coin flip. Off the bat, it looked bad for Murphy. After the camera switched to the outfield, things still seemed grim. But as balls often do in Seattle (due to the heavy marine air), the ball died at the warning track, and Mallex Smith easily squeezed it into his glove for out number one.
Next lumbered up Miguel Sano. First pitch, he gets a fastball up:
After a swing and miss, Sano takes a few pitches up and fouls off three pitches. Sano gets a fastball up in the zone again:
90 miles per hour. 90! From a catcher! It takes seven pitches, but Murphy gets Sano to strike out swinging on a fastball thrown as hard (or harder) than Wade LeBlanc, Mike Leake, Marco Gonzales, and Felix Hernandez have averaged on the year. But it doesn’t stop there.
Jason Castro was Murphy’s next victim. This is how the sequence went:
- Fastball, up and in (ball)
- Fastball, up (swinging strike)
- Fastball, way up (ball)
- Fastball, up (strike)
That’s an awful lot of pitches up. That set up the following:
Murphy legitimately set Castro up here. Here’s what it looked like at Castro’s swing decision point:
And here’s what it looked like, a millisecond or so later:
I would bet my bottom dollar that Castro did not expect to strike out when he strolled up to the plate to face Murphy. I can all but guarantee Castro didn’t think he’d strike out like this:
You can probably glean from the clips and screengrabs above that Murphy tunneled his slider at least somewhat well with his fastball. Maybe not. Regardless, courtesy of Pitching Ninja, Murphy’s fastball-slider pitch tunnel:
Tom Murphy, 88mph Fastball and 82mph Breaking Ball, Overlay.
Leader in the clubhouse for PitchingNinja position player pitcher of the year. pic.twitter.com/VG7Ty7d2KC
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 19, 2019
Not too shabby for someone who’s only pitched once at the professional level prior to this game. He didn’t emote too much throughout his outing, but even though there wasn’t much at stake, I imagine it was much easier to indulge in the amusement of the situation after it was over with.
According to Baseball Reference, there have been 78 position players to throw one or more innings with two or more strikeouts since 2000. So maybe Murphy wasn’t great after all, right? Well first, let’s refine our qualifying players here. Shohei Ohtani tops the list, and he obviously does not belong. Rick Ankiel certainly does not qualify. Jason Lane is a converted pitcher. Dave McCarty spent time working to become a pitcher. Brooks Kieschnick played two-ways. That cuts our sample all the way down to eight actual position players. (You can’t trick us, Baseball Reference!) If we go further and remove players who allowed a baserunner via walk or hit, that leaves just one player in our search query: Tom Murphy. That is to say, Murphy had the most dominant outing in our sample for a true position player.
At the end of the day, the Mariners still lost by 14 runs. Murphy gave his team reason to chuckle, which is much needed after undergoing the drubbing that they did. But also, this is all a little sobering if you’re Seattle. It was just an inning, and obviously there was some luck at play here, but Murphy was the only Mariners pitcher (out of six) to not give up a run, as well as their only pitcher to strike out more hitters than he walked. In a way, it’s quite emblematic of the 2019 Mariners, as the juxtaposition of the entire situation helps to shed light on just how unsightly pitching has been for them. In a vacuum, the Mariners’ catcher was their best pitcher of the day. It doesn’t get more hyperbolic than this. Such as it is in the life of a Mariners fan.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)