Going Young at Catcher, With Murphy Leading the Way, a Good Gamble for Athletics

Both offensively and defensively, rookie Oakland Athletics catcher Sean Murphy has been an impact player even as he's just getting settled in as the A's everyday man behind the plate.
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It seemed as if the A’s were taking a gamble when they decided to go with an all-rookie catching corps this season.

The historically apt play is to have a 30ish veteran with some good years behind him around to teach the kids the ways of the game.

The A’s didn’t go that route. They went with three kids, Sean Murphy, Austin Allen and Jonah Heim. And their believe in Murphy was such that they didn’t figure they needed to have a mentor hanging around. It will be Murphy, who played down the stretch in 2018 and Heim, who’d never been in the big-league leagues before this year, who will handle the A’s pitchers.

It turns out it wasn’t a gamble, particularly making Murphy the main man

Look for Murphy to get almost all of the playing time in the best-of-five American League Division Series against the Houston Astros, a series that begin Monday in Dodger Stadium. The A’s flew from Oakland to SoCal Saturday afternoon after a midday workout and will workout in Dodger Stadium midday Sunday.

Other than DH Khris Davis, who plate trips were limited by the fact that he was only playing against left-handed starting pitchers, no A’s hitter had a better stretch drive than the right-handed Murphy, who had a .277/.424/.638 slash line in September to go with five homers.

He made all three starts in the Wild Card series against the Chicago White Sox and led a team that averaged just .194 collectively with a .375 batting average. It was Murphy’s two-run homer in Game 3 that got the A’s on the scoreboard in Game 3, treasuring a surge that carried the A’s to a 6-4 win.

“He’s such a big part of both sides -- the pitching end of it and the game-planning end of it, understanding the opponent,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s way beyond his years and his leadership qualities seemed to increase as the year has gone along. His offense, obviously, has been fantastic.”

The homers are one thing. But Murphy also brings to the table a strong throwing arm, the ability to frame and block pitches and the insistence on studying so that his ideas about pitching call have to be given credence by the pitching staff.

“Murph truly calls a great game and approaches the game like he has 10 years of service time,” starting pitcher Chris Bassitt said. “It’s incredible. He’s changed my thought process on needing a veteran catcher, as long as you have a mature, very good catcher as a rookie. Murph is unbelievable.

The homework he does is too of the line. When I have all my pitches working and Murphy is able to toy with hitters the way that he’s doing, it’s a perfect storm.”

The storm didn’t take long to build. Murphy has only caught 61 big league games, but he seems as comfortable as if he’d been behind the plate for years.

“Each guy is different, but there’s a certainly level of comfort you get to where you know what each guy is trying to do,” said Murphy, who talks endlessly with his pitchers but who otherwise doesn’t talk much. “It’s difficult at first, but I am familiar enough with these guys that I feel comfortable changing game plans and changing attacks.”

Offensively, he’s been important for the offense, even though he’s spent most of the season (29 of 43 games) batting ninth. Four of his seven homers, seven of his 14 RBI and 17 of his 24 walks have come batting ninth.

Melvin may move him up against left-handed pitchers, but the manager is comfortable having Murphy batting at the bottom of the order.

“He’s doing so much damage where he is and comfortable where he is and it makes our lineup so deep that I’ve been reluctant to move him up,” Melvin said. “It’s a balance of trying to get him up in the lineup some.”

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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