Apparently it’s not OK to smile in the dugout…
Many of the local sports pages have been asking what the deal is with Matt Murton these days. Obviously the big problem is that the reigning batting champ has been hitting rather poorly since the season began, but it’s not just that. It’s the perceived attitude he has had of late as well. Here are a few summaries of articles I found online, and my own commentary at the end.
Yahoo Sports had this to say on Friday (original article here):
Some in the organization have said that they are worried Murton might be calling it quits at the end of this season. (Thursday) he hit into two double plays and went 0-for-4, and after 55 games is hitting just .245 with 17 RBIs and no home runs yet. Manager Wada says, “He’s not at his best, that’s for sure, but he’s not always bad. It feels like he wavers from at bat to at bat.” Others in the organization have said, “This year’s Murton is different from last year’s. It’s hard to tell if his heart is in it. On defense and on the base paths he’s showing some heart, but at the plate he looks indifferent. The umpires’ strike zone is inconsistent this year and surely Murton, who has a good eye at the plate, has not been happy about that, but that can’t be all there is to it.”
It could also be about his place in the batting order, which has jumped from 5th to 6th to 3rd and even 1st once. But the biggest concern is his mental state. One of his teammates says, “Even in the midst of his slump, he’s all smiley and stuff on the bench.” That’s something the team never saw last year. Even after his hitless performance on this day, he was all smiles on the bench and he skipped his way back to the locker room. Whatever is going on, it’s starting to affect the rest of the team. Let’s hope all this worrying about him quitting will blow off if he turns things around. IF…
Then Sanspo wrote this on Saturday (original article here):
Because of Murton’s prolonged slump, the team has confirmed it is looking into acquiring a sixth foreigner. With no signs of breaking out of his funk, the team has explored the possibility of signing either ex-Carp Micah Kila Ka’aihue or ex-Fighter Juan Miranda.
He seemed happy enough while practicing indoors during the rainy weather that canceled (Friday’s) game, but underneath the surface the team is making moves. He can’t be doing so well mentally, as he is just a shadow of who he was last year. And with a salary of 450,000,000 yen, a little change in the batting order is obviously not the answer.
A team executive laments, “It’s a headache. We have no choice but to think of acquiring another foreigner, one who can play left field.” It seems the team was giving Murton until the end of May to turn things around but decided to wait a little longer. But he only hit .231 against the Marines from June 2-4, so it seems he’s not getting better.
“We want someone who has experience playing ball in Japan, so we’re making a list. Once we complete the list, we will start the process of finding the right guy,” says a team rep.
My turn. I have not watched every game this year, but have easily seen over half of them. Murton has not looked like he did last season. He has at times, though, but those are just the times he’s gotten hits. He has not hustled as much to first base, and is hitting the ball on the ground much more than he did last season. He also has failed to drive the ball to left field. Most of his hits have come on balls hit the opposite way. He can find the gap between first and second, particularly when there is a runner on first base and the gap there is wider, but his pulling power is all but gone.
The chart above shows Murton’s batting average when hitting the ball to left, center and right. It looks at the last 4 seasons, I believe to show his two great seasons (2013 and 2014) in comparison to his two “poor” seasons (2012 and this year). What stands out to me is that Murton is actually hitting the ball to center and left almost as much as in seasons past (he’s on pace to hit to left 182 times and center 237 times) and to right just a little more (on pace for 117) than previously, but his success rates are quite different. I would dare wager that 70% or so of his hits to left and center this year have been grounders, only a few of which he has been able to beat out for hits.
I honestly wonder if sending him down to the minors for a few weeks wouldn’t do him some good. It seems to have done the trick with Randy Messenger (5.88 ERA before May 10, and 0.00 in two starts since being recalled). This does not necessarily mean it would work with Matt, but it certainly is worth a shot. Either that or just let him swing away on the minor circuit without a demotion. Did you know that players are allowed to participate in minor league games while remaining on the big league roster? Maybe he needs more in-game practice with his swing and facing live pitching. Who knows?
I am also concerned with his mental health. It seems to me that he is a lot more irritable this season than he ever has been before. True, he has always worn his heart on his sleeve, but it seems like he is yelling at opposing team’s players, the umpires, etc. a lot more, and perhaps with stronger language than in the past.
Last bit of worthless speculation from me. Could it be that he just isn’t happy playing under Wada? Has he reached his limit and just stopped caring? I hope not. For the team’s sake, for his own sake, I hope he can continue playing (and succeeding) with the team for years to come.