Let’s be blunt: the Mariners’ backup catcher situation has been pretty bleak the last several years. Whether it was the year of the catcher parade in 2013, Jesús Sucre’s slash line of .157/.195/.228 in 2015 (miss you Sucy), or the Steve Clevenger fiasco in 2016, it’s been a safe bet that backup catcher will be a black hole more often than not.
Tom Murphy has broken that trend, at least so far. Although some were sad to lose David Freitas to the Brewers after his game-winning home run against the Yomiuri Giants - on his birthday, no less! - Murphy has been pretty solid with the bat since coming over from the Rockies in late March, slashing .280/.321/.460 over 53 plate appearances en route to a 113 wRC+. There’s absolutely some small sample wackiness going on, with a strikeout rate of 45.3% (!) and a .500 BABIP being the main culprits, but results-wise he’s been perfectly alright. He’s also been an able defender behind the dish, gunning down three out of six attempted base stealers and showing some wild agility:
Competent offense and defense, aside, Murphy has also flashed another skill. Twice this month, he has relieved Seattle’s bullpen at the end of absolute blowouts, giving up two runs on the 1st against the Cubs, and firing a scoreless eighth against the Twins on Saturday, being the only Mariner pitcher to not allow a run that fateful night. While his first outing garnered little fanfare aside from the inherent weirdness of a position player pitching and him touching 89 MPH (catcher arms!), his inning on Saturday was nothing short of delightful. Needing just fourteen pitches to set down the side in order, he also struck out Miguel Sanó...
...and Jason Castro back-to-back, flashing a filthy slider to get Castro.
It even warranted an appearance on PitchingNinja!
Tom Murphy, 88mph Fastball and 82mph Breaking Ball, Overlay.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 19, 2019
Leader in the clubhouse for PitchingNinja position player pitcher of the year. pic.twitter.com/VG7Ty7d2KC
Even more impressively, Murphy induced four swings-and-misses during this outing, and got five (!) against the Cubs despite only throwing high-80s heat. If you’re keeping track, that’s nine swinging strikes over 31 total pitches, a rate of just under 30%. While there’s a caveat or two in those numbers - it’s an impossibly small sample, for one, and hitters tend to swing out of their shoes a little more once a position player is on the hill - they are undeniably impressive for any pitcher, let alone a catcher. The overlay above shows very little, if any separation between the release point on his fastball and slider, and the overall sequence to Castro was fantastic: four fastballs high, and then the hammer in a 2-2 count:
It’s simple: by position player standards, Tom Murphy can pitch. Although it’s required us to sit through far too many blowouts, we may have found an actual two-way player candidate. This past December, Seattle claimed former first-rounder Kaleb Cowart from Anaheim with the intent of him playing on both sides of the ball. Alas, we didn’t even get to see him try it in spring training, with the Tigers grabbing him just six weeks later. Murphy, on the other hand, could become Seattle’s designated non-pitcher pitcher. This isn’t unheard of, either: catcher/utility man - and former Mariner - Chris Gimenez appeared in six games with the 2017 Twins as a pitcher, and the Padres tried to make Christian Bethancourt a catcher/pitcher/outfielder hybrid that same year, albeit unsuccessfully.
May has been a no good, awful, terrible, horrible, very bad month for the Mariners as a whole. Tom Murphy: Pitcher has been a bright spot, and his performance on Saturday warrants a longer look at the idea of him going two-way, even if he just gets some work in to preserve the bullpen when a game has gone sideways. In any case, there’s almost no way it could go worse than Dylan Moore’s adventures on the mound.