The Curious Case of Daniel Murphy

Daniel Murphy. Is there a more apt ballplayer to describe the 2012 Mets? Hard working, rough around the edges, cheap, lousy defensively, polarizing among the fan base. Mets fans have seemingly split themselves into two categories: #IMWITH28 or not. Ask any Met fan their feelings on the guy and you will hear overrated, underrated, and everything in between.

What to make of Daniel Murphy? Literally. There are those who feel he is part of the solution for the New York Mets, a part of the plan set in motion by Sandy Alderson, forced via financial restraints in the ever-evolving Wilpon saga. Others believe his part of the solution is to be “WITH28” on some other team, taking back some parts to be used long term.

What makes this difficult is even after nearly 3 seasons with the team many still do not know what to expect of him. Daniel Murphy was never a highly regarded prospect. He failed to make Baseball America’s Top 10 in 2007 and 2008. Although it is amusing to see that he was predicted to be a part of the 2012 team, albeit at first base. This quote, from current’s Adam Rubin who set the rankings, seem almost prophetic. Plus I included an additional sentence about the 2008 pen just for the deja vu factor.

“Murphy has made a good case for a regular job, which ideally would be at second base but more realistically would be in left, and Parnell has a shot at a bullpen role. Otherwise, the Mets will be a mostly veteran team, and they turned to proven commodities ($37 million free agent Francisco Rodriguez and Putz) to upgrade their relief corps during the offseason.”

If at first you don’t succeed, eh?

Murphy’s foray into left field was an unmitigated disaster, but an injury to Carlos Delgado in 2009 allowed Murphy to return to the infield. His lack of athleticism made a rough transition, but his quick reflexes and work ethic made him quite a capable first baseman. It was not to last as Ike Davis would force him to 2B, where he injured himself on a dirty slide during a rehab assignment.

Throughout all this Daniel has remained relatively consistent at the plate. What is the disconcerting is his only season where he played 155 games was his worst: In 2009 he hit .266 with 12 Homeruns and an .OPS of .740. Was it Citifield? Learning to play Left Field and First Base? The weak lineup? The extra games?

Prior to his injury in 2011 he played 109 games with a .320 batting average, 6 home runs, and an .810 OPS. He was 9 at bats from qualifying for the batting title. Had Murphy kept his average at .320 through the nine at bats he would have finished fourth in the National League behind Matt Kemp, NL MVP Ryan Braun, and of course Jose Reyes.

The Mets inability to find Murphy a position before, or even shortly after he made the majors has made evaluation of him difficult. He has played 2B well, but is still among the worst in the league according to most defensive metrics. He has eleven errors. With August and September awaiting that number is sure to rise. Can he improve? That’s hard to say. He improved at first base, but second base is more difficult. He appears fine when making reaction plays, probably why he was originally a third baseman, but struggles more on plays that require thought or athleticism. A fan can see improvement at his ability to make a double play, but it still does not look smooth, and one finds himself holding breath that he doesn’t hurt himself.

Moving him to first base would be best for him defensively, but he does not have the power needed for the position. Even if Ike never sees the production he showed glimpses of in 2010 and 2011, his defense and power makes him a more ideal candidate. Third Base is obviously taken, and if Wright is not there in 2013 the Mets franchise has far worse problems than what to do with Murphy.

It all hedges on Murphy’s offense. He needs to hit enough to warrant what may at best be a mediocre to satisfactory second base defense. Is he a good enough hitter to challenge for a batting crown? He needs to be. He takes pitches but is not a walk machine. He doesn’t have much speed. At his best Murphy hits, and hits doubles. This is a valuable trait, especially when one considers for his career he has hit BETTER at Citifield than on the road: an .804 OPS at home vs .740 on the road.

With Daniel Murphy about to hit arbitration, and with the Wilpons financial solvency in doubt after a $50m payroll reduction in 2012, Sandy needs to determine if the 27 year old has reached his peak, or will continue to grow. If he can grow, we are looking at a number 2 or 3 hitter consistent hitter in the lineup with Wright who needs to play every day, regardless of matchup. If he and Terry Collins determine that he’s done this all with smoke and mirrors, that the .523 home average in July is an abnormality, that there is no imporvement left for the young man, then they need to take advantage of his hot streak and the need of 2B and 3B in the market to see if they can make this Mets franchise better in the future. Even if it hurts 2012, possibly 2013. San Francisco, Baltimore, even the Yankees all might be interested with his ability to play 3 infield positions.

I do not envy Sandy in this case. We will be able to look back years from now and easily say what could have been. Like many fans now are saying what Sandy could have gotten for Reyes last July, or what Jim Duquette could have gotten for Scott Kazmir instead of Victor Zambrano. However, this one fan won’t tell Sandy what he should do, cause in the case of Daniel Murphy the future is…….curious.


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