Daniel Murphy was the most powerful hitter on the planet for a couple of weeks last October. But once he cooled down in the World Series, it sure seemed like that was that.

Or maybe not, as it turns out.

Though it’s early in their partnership, right now the Washington Nationals must be quite pleased with the $37.5 million investment they made in Murphy over the winter. He slugged a home run in the club’s opener last week and collected two hits in three of the team’s first four games.

Murphy was back at it again Monday at Nationals Park, collecting two more hits in a 6-4 win over the Atlanta Braves. The first of those was his second long ball of the year. The Nationals shared Murphy’s stats thus far this season:

Five games into the new season with his new team, Murphy finds himself hitting .471 with a 1.591 OPS, a pair of home runs and a double and triple to boot. He’s not Trevor Story or anything, but he’s definitely knocking the crud out of the ball.

With this time of year being what it is, the conventional wisdom states we must be very, very careful about reading into this. But considering what we know about Murphy’s recent history, that’s easier said than done.

Nobody can forget what Murphy did last October with the New York Mets. Murphy, now 31, homered seven times in nine games in the lead-up to the World Series, including in a record six games in a row. Though he failed to homer again in the World Series, his seven homers is a mark only three hitters have topped in a single postseason.

“I wish I could explain it,” Murphy said in the aftermath of the Mets’ pennant-clinching victory in Chicago, per Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. “I would have done it, like, six years ago.”

Thing is, though, Murphy’s power awakening actually did have a few explanations. And so far, those same explanations apply to what he’s doing this season.

Though Murphy at no point looked like a Barry Bonds-ian slugger in the regular season last year, it was a career-best season from a power perspective. He cranked out a career-high 14 home runs in only 130 games and also set a new personal best for isolated power.

This marked quite the departure from Murphy’s usual offensive approach, which called for making contact and spraying the ball all over the field with a line-drive stroke. It worked to the extent he racked up a .290 average between 2008 and 2014, but it was a soft .290.

As Kepler noted, new Mets hitting coach Kevin Long had other ideas for Murphy. He believed Murphy had more power he could tap into, and urged him to give it a try by moving closer to the plate and tucking his hands closer to his body. As Mike Petriello highlighted at MLB.com, Murphy did just that.

This obviously worked from a production standpoint, but more significant is how it worked. Murphy felt last season’s changes in his batted-ball profile, notably hitting the ball in the air and pulling the ball at higher rates. When a hitter starts doing that, extra power is going to be there.

Even after Murphy’s efforts culminated in his October explosion, though, it seemed the rest of Major League Baseball wasn’t convinced.

Even after all the talk of Murphy earning himself a boatload of extra money in free agency thanks to his October performance, the three-year, $37.5 million deal he signed with Washington was, in the opinion of FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan, “the contract [Murphy] was pretty much always going to get.” And according to Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post, not even Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo was convinced Murphy was suddenly a hitter with real 20-homer power.

A hitter suddenly developing career-best power at the age of 30 does set off fluke sirens, after all. And besides, maybe the Nationals figured Murphy wouldn’t even try to hit for power. With Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman in the Nationals lineup, it’s not like they needed him to.

But as Murphy told Janes, he actually had no interest in reverting back to his old self.

I think early in my career, just putting the barrel on the ball was something I really strived to do,” he said. “Now as I’ve grown and matured and talked to hitting coaches…I’ve realized that just putting the ball in play isn’t necessarily a victory.”

And so far, he’s staying true to his word.

Murphy’s placement and stance in the box is still drastically different than it was a couple of years ago. Whereas he used to be upright with his hands held high and his feet a good distance from the plate, he’s once again standing close to the plate with his knees bent and his hands tucked in:

Murphy is benefiting the same way he benefited last year. He went into Monday’s action with a 44.4 FB% and 55.6 Pull%. And according to Baseball Savant, he’s gone from averaging 90.3 mph on his batted balls to averaging 97.6 mph. 

So, nevermind not backing down from last year’s power awakening. What Murphy is doing so far in 2016 is upping the ante, and it’s working.

Of course, it bears repeating that the season is in the heart of “Small Sample Size Country.” Murphy is not going to keep up his 63-homer pace. We know this not just because that’s an absurdly high number, but also because it’s unlikely he’ll keep putting the ball in the air, pulling the ball and hitting the ball with such outstanding exit velocity like he has been. Inevitably, his many big numbers will deflate.

But by now, it’s clear Murphy became a power hitter because he wanted to become a power hitter. It’s also clear he still wants to be one, and he’s sticking with the same things that worked wonders for him last October.

The way things are going, he has no reason not to.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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