Once upon a time not long ago, a reasonably self-assured baseball writer spotlighted David Murphy's sub-replacement level 2011 campaign, expressed disgust at what was at the time a .249/.313/.340 batting line on the season (from a corner outfielder, no less), and half-sarcastically, but half-seriously dubbed him a "sixth outfielder."
Four and a half weeks and one incredible, bordering-on-otherworldly .424/.435/.803 sixteen-game run later, the sixth outfielder that seemingly no longer could had almost completed his transformation back into the fourth outfielder that could. After languishing for nearly five months in the sub-replacement cellar and futilely wandering around the desert looking for the catalyst that would breathe new life into his dying swing, Murphy is on the verge of passing over and beyond the league-average offensive threshold -- and, for that matter, seems well on his way to a much-expanded role come playoff time. I know all about how this incredible reversal of fortunes supposedly came about, but I'm not sure I've quite wrapped my head around it yet.
On Tuesday night, Murphy clocked a single, a double, and two home runs -- the second of which was the more photogenic of the two, as the ball's high arc and lazy descent helped it find the comforts of the upper home run porch -- en route to ballooning his seasonal batting line to .274/.329/.412. Three weeks ago today, Murphy was hitting .240/.306/.323 and staring the prospect of being non-tendered square in the face. Now, granted, this wasn't his most impressive game ever from a win probability standpoint, but it did help render Murphy's incredible three-week run all the more unique in a most unexpected way: from 1919-present, there have been 2,270,410 individual player games where a batter made at least four trips to the plate, and 7,066 individual player games where a batter recorded at least four total hits while also slugging at least one home run.
Put another way, only one out of every 321 batters to log four plate appearances in a particular game over the last 93 years finished that game with at least four hits and one home run in the box score. One out of 321. David Murphy has now accomplished that feat three times in the last 10 games. Try and figure that out -- and then once you're done, try and figure out where this is supposed to end. If your thinking is that even an ephemeral slump will destroy his rhythm and send him tumbling back down the ladder towards step one, it should be pointed out that Murphy had encountered a 3-for-18 slump going into Tuesday night, and overcame it in the most devastating of conceivable ways.
The word on the street is that Murphy will continue to start games even after Nelson Cruz -- who is still several days away from returning to the lineup, at the earliest -- is finally reinserted into right field, and if Murphy can continue plugging away at anything even remotely close to his current clip, this is going to culminate in an outfield alignment of Murphy, Josh Hamilton, and Cruz against right-handed starting pitching come October, and Hamilton, Craig Gentry, and Cruz against southpaws. Endy Chavez gave Texas a boost in center field at a critical time earlier this season, but his punchless .263/.279/.380 showing over the last three months combined with the resurrection of David Murphy may have just punched his fifth-outfielder ticket from now until whenever the Rangers' 2011 ride finally pulls back around into the station.
Once again, Murphy is flirting with being more than a fourth outfielder. It's not over the desired period of time, obviously, and this still hasn't been a "good" season for Murphy -- but he has done enough over the last three weeks to essentially save his season, and it appears that's going to be enough to earn him not only an offer of salary arbitration this coming winter, but also a far more ample share of post-season playing time than previously expected. I can't say that I saw any of it coming ... but then, I suppose this really would be a very boring game if we all saw everything that was coming.