Graphic By: Robert Robinson
Written By: Roy Countryman @PreacherBoyRoy
After the monumental announcement of Justin Herbert returning for a senior season, and the lack of a true number one QB in this year’s draft class, the attention has now turned squarely towards the rare two-sport star in Kyler Murray. As he prepares for the daunting task before him of playing the Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff, he has made it abundantly clear that he is still weighing his options when it comes to choosing football over his career in baseball. In this article I am going to do an in-depth look at both sides of the argument that Murray will have to examine when choosing which path to follow.
As most of us know, Murray was selected 9th overall by the Oakland Athletics in the 2018 MLB Draft. He chose to sign a deal with them on June 15th, 2018, where he reportedly received a $4.66 million signing bonus. It also came with provisions that allowed him to play one year of college football for the Oklahoma Sooners. Later on in the year, after he had received the Heisman Trophy for his play this college season, MLB insider Ken Rosenthal reported that his contract also contained a clause which stated: “in the event that he would choose to forgo his baseball career and pursue the football route, he would have to pay back the portion of his signing bonus that had already been paid out to him up front”, which totaled $1.5 million dollars. If he remains with the A’s, he is due to be paid out the remaining portion of his signing bonus in March. But that’s enough about his contract specifics; let's take a broad approach to what the benefits are to him choosing the baseball route.
The first benefit is that baseball, in the traditional sense, is far less abusive to his body, and thus holds a lower chance of him sustaining a career-altering injury, because of the lesser amount of hits he will sustain especially compared to his abilities on the gridiron, where his athleticism and scrambling ability lends itself to garnering more contact, and chances to get injured.
The second benefit is the structure of baseball contracts. MLB contracts are generally fully guaranteed for a career that lasts 5.6 years on average. This means that when Murray is able to reach free agency after his sixth year, he will be set up for a major payday of guaranteed money. If he gets to the majors by 2020, he would be 23 years of age at time of debut, and would make him 29 years old when he would be able to hit free agency. Should he be able to put up quality numbers in that timespan, it would be a prime opportunity o land a quality second contract.
Now let’s play devil’s advocate, and look at the drawbacks of choosing the baseball route.
First, let’s take a quick look at the scouting grades that MLB.com had assigned to Kyler Murray pre-draft. They look at the five basic tools that scouts take into account when grading a player: Hit, Power, Running ability, Arm, Fielding ability. The scores are based upon the MLB scouting scale of 20-80, where 80 is a Top 1-2 Hitter/Player, 75 is a Top 2-3 Hitter/Player, 70 is a Top 5 Hitter/Player, 65 is and All-Star Hitter/Player, 60 is a Plus Hitter/Player, 55 is an above average player, 50 is an average regular player, 45 is a platoon or utility player, 40 is a bench player, 35 is a emergency call up player, and 30 on down is an organizational player with little chance of making it to the majors.
Conclusion: So, in the pre-draft process, you can see that baseball scouts and evaluators were enamored with his athleticism, power, and hitting ability, but still did not see him as a can’t-miss prospect. A lot of the questions surrounding him had to do with his abilities due to not being able to focus solely upon one sport and refining his skill set in it. Some scouts also questioned if his power would translate to the next level, because he only had produced one year of strong results in college. He is new to playing the outfield as well, as he only transitioned there from the infield in 2017. He faced some questions about his inexperience on the diamond as well due to him missing the 2016 baseball season due to transferring out of Texas A&M to Oklahoma to play both sports. 2017 was his first season playing fully healthy since 2014. His initial results in 2017 were alarming for a prospect selected in the first round, but he did explode onto the scene in 2018, proving can he sustain that success. Here is his stats from both the 2017, and 2018 seasons.
Games Played: 27
On Base Percentage: .327
Slugging Percentage: .122
Extra Base Hits: 0
BB/SO Ratio: 13/20
Stolen Bases: 12
Fielding Percentage: .857
Overview: Every category was comparable to a career minor leaguer or bench player because of his speed, and yes, he did not contribute a single extra base hit in an entire season. Anything under a .900 fielding percentage is below average, and in his first season patrolling the OF, he was a below-average defender.
Games Played: 51
On Base Percentage: .398
Slugging Percentage: .556
Extra Base Hits: 26 (10 HR’s)
BB/SO Ratio: 28/56
Stolen Bases: 10
Fielding Percentage: .987
Overview: Murray experienced a true breakout season, producing stats across the board of a high caliber offensive weapon as a power/speed threat that has the ability to hit 20 HR’s and steal 20 SB’s. He also showed a better grasp of what it takes to patrol the OF with confidence.
As you can see, there was some real question marks to the sustainability of Murray’s success, especially due to the fact that he continually has shown that he wanted to maintain playing football, which took him away being able to focus his attention to the small details of improving himself at baseball.
The second drawback to take into consideration is money. The $4.66 million dollar signing bonus on the surface makes it look like an easy decision, but in fact that is a small number in the big picture. First of all, that sum is the entire amount Murray would see, with the exception of his miniscule salary that he plays on in the minors. Which, as you can see in the chart below, is pennies to try and live off of:
Rookie/Class A Ball: $1,100
Double A: $1,500
Triple A: $2,150
40 Man Roster- In Minors: $44,500
40 Man Roster- Majors min: $545,000
*Minors Note: Players get $25 per diem, and dinner at ballpark after games.
Murray would be subject to playing under these monthly wages until he gets to the majors, and even throughout his first few seasons in the majors. He would not be subject for a substantial raise until he hits his arbitration years, which comes either as a special case called a Super 2 player, or after his third year in the majors. He would get awarded an amount based upon his statistics along with production for his fourth, fifth, and sixth years in the majors, and then be able to hit open free agency after the completion of his sixth year, which as stated above would put him as an open free agent at the age of 29. This would be considered a great age, but MLB has also seen a shift in thinking where players who are near the age of 30 find it harder and harder to find the absolute mega deals of $200+ million.
Our final observation to take into the equation is if Murray will even make it to the Show. To put this into perspective, I am going to fall back upon one of the best publications that baseball minds read, which is FanGraphs. They base their evaluations on analytical values, and assign grades to players based on that merit. They assign values of players based off of a value called WAR, or wins above replacement. Basically, this is valuing what a specific player’s skill compares to a replacement level player. They did a study based upon the MLB Draft and the success rate of chances to procure talent. This was their results for where Kyler Murray was selected with the number 9 overall pick. This study was from the year 2000-2010, and were based off of their valuing the players selected by WAR.
Chance of Making it to the Majors: 74.5% (41/55)
Chance to Find a Successful Player: 15%
Chance to Find a Superior Player: 20%
Chance to Find a Bust: 65%
So, what does this study say about Murray’s chances as a baseball prospect? Yes, he would probably make it to the highest level, but we do not know how long. The other thing to take into consideration is that there exists an over 50% chance of being a bust.
Now let’s move on to the other side of the equation, his choice of playing on the gridiron.
With Herbert’s decision to forgo his opportunity in the 2019 NFL Draft, it has placed the attention squarely back upon the question: “Who is going to be the top QB in this year’s draft class?” Murray would of course assert himself to the front of the line if he declares he is choosing the football route. Let’s take a quick look at some of the benefits to this decision.
The first, and most glaring point to take into consideration is money. Here is a chart that shows the total contract value and signing bonuses from all the players selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft, just so that you have some perspective of the kind of money that Murray would expect to see come his way if selected in the first round of the draft.
Pick-Team-Selection Total Contract Signing Bonus
1-Browns-Baker Mayfield $33,158,294 $22,185,523
2-Giants-Saquon Barkley $31,647,174 $21,086,526
3-Jets-Sam Darnold $30,685,571 $20,387,178
4-Browns-Denzel Ward $29,586,562 $19,587,900
5-Broncos-Bradley Chubb $27,663,313 $18,189,173
6-Colts-Quenton Nelson $24,228,952 $15,691,456
7-Bills-Josh Allen $21,481,462 $13,693,282
8-Bears-Roquan Smith $18,733,972 $11,695,107
9-49ers-Mike McGlinchey $18,596,442 $11,595,085
10-Cardinals-Josh Rosen $17,841,032 $11,045,697
11-Dolphins-Minkah Fitzpatrick $16,673,360 $10,196,480
12-Buccaneers-Vita Vea $15,024,853 $8,997,566
13-Redskins-Da'Ron Payne $14,612,732 $8,697,842
14-Saints-Marcus Davenport $13,925,862 $8,198,300
15-Raiders-Kolton Miller $13,651,129 $7,998,494
16-Bills-Tremaine Edmunds $12,826,862 $7,399,027
17-Chargers-Derwin James $12,552,112 $7,199,209
18-Packers-Jaire Alexander $12,208,682 $6,949,441
19-Cowboys-L. Vander Esch $12,002,612 $6,799,573
20-Lions-Frank Ragnow $11,933,932 $6,749,623
21-Bengals-Billy Price $11,865,242 $6,699,667
22-Titans-Rashaan Evans $11,727,863 $6,599,755
23-Patriots-Isaiah Wynn $11,590,492 $6,499,849
24-Panthers-D.J. Moore $11,315,742 $6,300,030
25-Ravens-Hayden Hurst $11,178,372 $6,200,124
26-Falcons-Calvin Ridley $11,040,975 $6,100,200
27-Seahawks-Rashaad Penny $10,903,622 $6,000,306
28-Steelers-Terrell Edmunds $10,834,932 $5,950,351
29-Jaguars-Taven Bryan $10,283,751 $5,549,491
30-Vikings-Mike Hughes $9,991,865 $5,337,210
31-Patriots-Sony Michel $9,747,362 $5,159,391
32-Ravens-Lamar Jackson $9,589,930 $5,044,895
*Chart put together by Jason Belzer, Contributor for Forbes.com
I have just wrapped up writing my initial scouting report on Kyler Murray, and I have him graded as a top 5 prospect, which as you can see in comparison to last year’s figures puts him in store to make way more money up front in his signing bonus than his MLB deal, along with more money over the life of his first contract if he chose this path. Also, regardless of overall selection, if he is picked in the first round, his contract would include a fifth year option that is a staggering figure in comparison to what he would be able to make in his fifth year as a baseball player, considering his first two seasons would potential be in the minors, and he would be in his final pre-arbitration season. Murray possesses the skill-set to thrive in this new era of spread offenses and RPO style running attacks, and I believe he could be a star.
The final benefit to consider is a chance for endorsements. I am not making the statement that he would never be able to sign on with companies as a baseball player, but with him likely to start off in the minors, he would have to wait until he has some resounding success to catch on with a company. If he chose the football route, however, he would be riding the wave of momentum he has as a Heisman Trophy winner and most likely first round selection all the way to the bank. He has the leadership qualities, athleticism, and exciting playing temperament to have brands lining up to sign him to a deal.
Choosing the football route is not without its drawbacks though, and we are going to examine them as well.
First up is the injury factor. Murray only stands 5’10” and 195 lbs., which is not the cookie cutter mold for a Franchise QB. He is a smart runner and does protect himself while scrambling down the field by sliding or getting out of bounds when he deems it necessary, but that build will scare some teams off due to a lack of success of shorter statured QB’s in NFL history. And his scrambling ability doesn’t seem to make those opinions much better. Due to that stature, he has a chance to get injured or even deal with the long-term effects of CTE if concussed, which is something he would not have to consider while playing baseball.
The final consideration is contract structure. In the NFL, you only make as much as what you are guaranteed. You see a lot of big numbers come out when a franchise QB signs a deal, but what you really have to look at in the structure of the deal is the guaranteed money in the form of the signing bonuses and the portions of yearly salary that have been guaranteed. If he chose the route of baseball and made it to the majors, all major league contracts are guaranteed, with no risk of not seeing the total value you signed for. That’s not to say in a worst case scenario, Murray only pans out as a backup QB, because he could still make a ton of money in the practical sense of say $3+ million a season. The other thing to consider is that the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement ends after the 2020 season, and we could see a whole new way of how contracts are structured going forwards, especially with the proliferation of players seeking out smaller total numbers for more guaranteed money.
Ultimately, I see Kyler Murray weighing all these factors into his decision, but the most important part of his decision making will be what his family and support system thinks is best for his future. His father, Kevin Murray, is a noted QB guru for high school players who are trying to refine their skills to get quality college football offers, and his son was his prized pupil. He has had multiple opportunities to squash all the rumors of him choosing football over baseball, and he has refused to do so. He is a leader, and loves being out on the field with his brothers. He was 43-0 as a QB in high school, and led his teams to 3 straight championships at Allen,TX and was a noted winner at Oklahoma. So at the end of the day, I see him choosing the sport that he and his family have close to their hearts. By that, I mean: you will see Kyler being selected in the first round in the 2019 NFL Draft!