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40 in 40: Tom Murphy and The Tell-Tale Eyes

Pale blue are the eyes of chaos, and by power are they invoked.

TRUE!—CHAOS—very, very dreadfully injured he had been! But why will you say that he is mad? The injury had sharpened his senses—not destroyed—not dulled them. Above all was the sense of chaos acute. He watched all things heard in the heaven and in the earth; in the playoffs and in the regular season. He saw many things in hell; on the injured list. How then, is he mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how Tom Murphy first entered my brain; but once conceived, he haunted my day and night. Prospect there was none. Passion there was none. I appreciated the journeyman catcher. He has never wronged me. I think it was his eyes! Yes, it was this! He had the eyes of chaos—a pale blue, always flashed in moments of power shown. Whenever they fell upon me, my blood ran hot; and so by degrees—very gradually—I made up my mind he deserved a spot on the roster, and thus suffer the eyes forever.

Now this is the point. You fancy him mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen him. You should have seen how valuable his bat proceeded—albeit with small sample size—with weighted runs created plus in the numerical value of 168.

I was never kinder to the journeyman catcher than during the whole two weeks before injury sidelined him. While the high rate of striking out remained from his previous days of, on average—save for the year of 19 and 2000—fringy production, new was a beating heart of a career high in on base percentage. The aforementioned high rate of striking out was tenderly balanced with a rate of walking at almost twenty percent. In those mere weeks—those measly two and forty plate appearances—he accumulated more value in fWAR, a rapid 0.5, than one called Jesse Winker would go on to accumulate in the entire season. Oh, how! a full season could have told the tale; whether that tale would have continued good fortune, or seen a return to the previous fringes of form, we cannot know. For the climax we did receive—simple in the sight, a complacent lie in the moment—betrayed a deeper hurt that in turn betrayed the fortunes of the team.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief—oh no!— it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when confronted with the realization that the catching depth in the roster was not sufficient enough to bear the weight of such an injury. There was much we did not know at the time, of either the fair, or the folly. All recency betrayed the future. How were we, in our ignorance, to know that a struggling Cal Raleigh would soon blossom into the every day starter we had hoped he would be. All we knew then was we would be deprived of those pale blue eyes.

The reverse of the recency bias was also true, and thus made our biases false. A cynic could possibly have predicted the fall from grace that would unravel the third rostered catcher in that of Luis Torrens, but the previous season was there to bear witness to the potential value, and so it was that value we had hoped for. What Torrens lacked in the defensive prowess of Tom Murphy, he had been known to make up for in matching him in power of the bat. Alas, that version of Torrens was not meant to be, and as the mid-season deadline approached, the Mariners of Seattle hedged ever so cautiously in their roster with the acquisition of one Curt Casali. Ironic then that my intentions are anything but curt when I say that he, too, failed to provide the production needed even for the backup role. Neither man was productive, and neither had they those piercing, pale blue eyes.

And now have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the senses?—now, I say, there comes to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. Mariners fans know that sound well. It is the beating heart of chaos. Indeed, chaos, for it is from the unexpected previous season of both the fair and the folly that we now know better what we have in that of the journeyman catcher by the name of Tom Murphy. We know by our fair fortune of Cal Raleigh both that the matter of our primary role is now claimed—and the limits of what we can expect of the man fulfilling that role. So too, do we know from the folly of our attempts of other backups, what is needed in that role as well. Competence enough that even approaches at least the fringes, and upside that far surpasses it. No longer should we count on Cal to pinch hit in the late hours of days that were supposed to be assigned to him for leisure.

What we have in the man by the name of Tom Murphy is precisely what is needed. That much is clear not only in our hindsight, but by the foresight of systems that would boast precognitive abilities. Whether you prefer the prescience of Steamer, which would have him at a wRC+ above average of 106, or that of THE BAT X, which would place him at a more fringe 92, it is more than enough to meet the demand of the expected role. Be that of spelling the catcher role as a backup, or providing the occasional power needed for that of the role of a designated hitter. The pressure of that expectancy is also relieved in the presence of new addition Cooper Hummel—should the low, dull, quick sound of the beating heart of chaos drum itself to an unfair tune—as those same projection systems are equally kind to this season’s third option. But should that beating heart attune itself to a fairer cadence, then we may just find ourselves staring into fortune, which just might bear mad, piercing, pale blue eyes.