Hall-of-Famers as Seen Through Player Won-Lost Records: Eddie Murray
Eddie Murray is my all-time favorite major-league baseball player. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his 1st year of eligibility, 2003, with 85.3% of the vote.
Five highlights of Eddie Murray's career:
The first two tables below present Eddie Murray's career as measured by Player won-lost records, in and out of context.
- Eddie Murray batted left-handed for the first time as a professional baseball player late in the 1975 season. Two years later, he hit 27 home runs for the Baltimore Orioles, 20 of them left-handed. He ended his career with the second-most hits, second-most home runs, and most RBI of any switch-hitter in major-league history.
- Murray won the American League Rookie of the Year award playing for my favorite team, the Baltimore Orioles, in the first season I followed passionately from start to finish, 1977.
- Murray won three Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers and was named to eight All-Star teams. Murray led his league once each in home runs, RBI, walks, and on-base percentage.
- Murray received MVP votes nine times, with six top-5 finishes including back-to-back second place finishes in 1982 and 1983.
- In 1996, Eddie Murray became the third player in major-league history to collect 3,000 hits and 500 home runs in his career.
Eddie Murray was nicknamed "Steady Eddie" because he was amazingly consistent throughout his career. My favorite measure of his consistency is his season-by-season OPS+ at Baseball-Reference.com. From 1981 through 1983, Eddie Murray had an OPS+ of exactly 156 for three consecutive seasons. He snapped his string of 156-OPS+ seasons in 1984 by leading the American League with an OPS+ of 157.
Eddie Murray's consistency can also be seen in traditional statistics. He got over 3,000 base hits in his career without ever getting more than 186 hits in a single season. He hit over 500 home runs without ever hitting more than 33 in a single season.
In 1978, at age 22, Murray put up a Triple Crown line of .285/27/95. In 1993, at age 37, Murray put up a Triple Crown line of .285/27/100. For his career, his 162-game average Triple Crown line was .287/27/103.
His consistency is fairly obvious in Player won-lost records as well, as can be seen in the first two tables in this article.
Eddie Murray: Clutch God
Perhaps my favorite statistic from Eddie Murray's career is his career batting record with the bases loaded.
In 302 career plate appearances with the bases loaded, Murray batted .399/.387/.739, an OPS of 1.127, with 19 home runs (2nd alltime when he retired) and 299 RBIs.
Breaking his career down by leverage, Murray's OPS was .872 in high-leverage situations with a home run every 21 at-bats. In low-leverage situations, Murray's OPS was only .809 and he hit a home run once every 27 at-bats.
For his career, Eddie Murray is 11th all-time in RBIs (although much of that is because he's 7th all-time in plate appearances and 6th in career at bats). Two more statistics that may or may not be "clutch" but for which Eddie Murray ranks highly: he is the American League's all-time leader in Game-Winning RBIs (for the seasons for which it was an official statistic) and he holds the major-league record for career sacrifice flies (again, for the seasons for which it was an official statistic).
Player won-lost records are calculated two primary ways - as shown in the tables above - pWins, which tie to team wins, and eWins, which control for context. There is actually an intermediate step, which I sometimes call mWins. This intermediate step allows one to distinguish between two types of context: what I call "inter-game" context, which controls for the relative importance of an event within the context of the individual game, and "intra-game", which adjusts all games to have the same number of pWins and pLosses.
The closest counterpart within Player won-lost records to what I think most people usually think of as "clutch hitting" is what I call my "inter-game win adjustment", which measures the extent to which a player's Player winning percentage changes because of the timing of his performance with respect to in-game context (i.e., leverage).
For his career, Eddie Murray's batting inter-game win adjustment is 0.011, which translates into an extra 5.9 pWins for Murray (and his teams) in his career.
The next table shows the top 10 players in "clutch" batting wins, measured in this way.
I think that produces a fun combination of names: six Hall-of-Famers (counting Albert Pujols), but also a couple of "Huh?"'s mixed in for fun – Granny Hamner? Ben Oglivie? Eddie Joost?
There are issues with this and alternate ways to measure it. But by this measure, Eddie Murray was arguably the best clutch hitter of the past century.
Earl Weaver's Views on "Clutch Hitting"
Earl Weaver had an interesting take on "clutch hitting" generally and Eddie Murray specifically in his excellent book, Weaver on Strategy.
Eddie Murray is like Reggie Jackson in that his individual statistics might be a little better if the game were always on the line when he batted.... In the late innings with an important runner on second base, Reggie and Eddie become better hitters. If the Orioles are winning 9-2, Eddie isn't the same hitter as when the score is 3-2....
Weaver seems to be suggesting that what made Murray a great "clutch hitter" is that he relaxed and became a lesser hitter when the game wasn't on the line and, contrary to conventional baseball wisdom, that being a "clutch hitter" in this way was a bad thing, or at least, not a good thing. Here's a career OPS comparison of the three players cited here by Weaver in what Baseball-Reference characterizes as "high-leverage" versus "low-leverage" situations.
No one can totally concentrate for all six hundred at bats, although Frank Robinson came as close to doing so as anyone who has ever played.... Frank realized a 9-2 lead in the seventh inning isn't always safe. Frank's concentration surpassed Eddie's, but Eddie is young enough that he may change. He's improving every year. (p. 156, originally published in 1984)
Weaver's take on Murray vs. Robinson is pretty accurate (although Reggie Jackson doesn't show much split here). In high-leverage situations, Robinson was better than Murray, but not by a lot, with an OPS about 5.5% higher. But in low-leverage situations, Robinson's OPS was 17.7% (and 143 points) higher than Murray's.
Article last updated: March 23, 2020
All articles are written so that they pull data directly from the most recent version of the Player won-lost database. Hence, any numbers cited within these articles should automatically incorporate the most recent update to Player won-lost records. In some cases, however, the accompanying text may have been written based on previous versions of Player won-lost records. I apologize if this results in non-sensical text in any cases.
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