Early season shocker: Daniel Murphy leads 2B in UZR

By UZR, the three worst full-time second basemen in MLB in 2012 were Daniel Murphy, Jose Altuve and Rickie Weeks. Flash forward to the early going in 2013 and we see that once again, Weeks is the worst defensive player. He already has a (-3.0) UZR, which translates to a (-44.5) UZR/150, meaning he would cost his team nearly four-and-a-half wins compared to an average player.

In 2012, Altuve had a (-13.6) UZR/150 and currently he sports a (-9.3) rate per 150 games. He’s not the second-worst fielder at the present moment, but he’s bad and with a rate that tracks closely to what he did a season ago. Which brings us to Murphy.

After finishing 2012 with a (-13.3) UZR/150, Murphy sits today with a 2.3 UZR, which works out to a 47.0 UZR/150. Both his raw and per 150 UZR rates are the best among full-time second basemen in the majors. While we should recognize that this is obviously a small sample – and that fielding numbers take longer to stabilize than batting numbers – there’s nothing wrong with enjoying Murphy’s hot start in the field.

However, it does make one wonder how on earth he’s performing so much better here in the early going.

Last year, Murphy was below average across the board, according to UZR. As expected, he struggled turning the double play, with a (-1.5) DPR. He added to his defensive woes by not being a steady fielder, as he posted a (-4.5) ErrR. But perhaps the biggest surprise was that his range was so poor. Previously his best defensive trait, Murphy recorded a (-4.3) RngR last year.

Flash forward to this year and we still see Murphy struggling to turn two, as he sports a below-average DPR of (-0.2). But his ErrR is in positive numbers (0.5) and his range has returned to pre-2012 levels. His RngR of 2.0 is the second-best rate among qualified fielders. Add it all up and Murphy is the top defensive second baseman in the game by UZR, a statement few would ever imagine being the case.

Last year Murphy played nearly every batter as if he were Ryan Howard, someone capable of drilling the ball to the right side. Murphy set up in short right field. Playing this deep killed his range. As the year progressed, Murphy moved closer to the infield but he was still rarely at normal depth. So far in 2013, Murphy has played a more traditional second base and his numbers have improved significantly.

The 2013 Mets have not been a good defensive club so far. A shaky start by Ruben Tejada has garnered most of the attention but eight players currently have a negative UZR. Even David Wright, who had a legitimate case for the Gold Glove Award in 2012, has struggled in the field and chimes in with a (-0.6).

With this as our backdrop, it makes Murphy’s start all the more amazing.

No one expects that at the end of the season that Murphy will be atop the UZR leaderboards like he is today. Still, if he could go from one of the worst fielders for his position in 2012 to merely average this year, it would be a huge step in the right direction. It wasn’t that long ago that many people worried about Murphy’s health if he was forced to play second base on a full-time basis. Now we’re wishing our shortstop could be as competent in the field as Murphy is at second base.

8 comments for “Early season shocker: Daniel Murphy leads 2B in UZR

  1. Metsense
    April 17, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    “Murphy is the top defensive second baseman in the game by UZR, a statement few would ever imagine being the case” myself included. He is also hitting the ball with authority, something he lacked last year.”If he could go from one of the worst fielders for his position in 2012 to merely average this year, it would be a huge step in the right direction” and with the authoritative hitting actually make him a legitimate all star consideration. I have been advocating to trade Murphy (and I personally like Murphy)because of his defense and the two average second baseman on the bench. If this trend continues, I wouldn’t even consider it. Maybe 2013 is the year Murphy puts it all together.

    • Joe Vasile
      April 17, 2013 at 11:20 pm

      I would still advocate for trading Murphy once Wilmer Flores is ready. If Murph can establish himself as an average (scratch) defender at 2nd and still hit the way he is capable of, he could bring back a nice haul in a trade.

  2. steevy
    April 17, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    Great,but now Tejada is killing us.

  3. Chris F
    April 17, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    I think the weather is stupid playing baseball. Tejada will settle down. Don’t worry!

  4. April 17, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    That is very surprising, but great to see. Murphy’s bat with average defense at 2B would actually be quite a boon for the team, considering all of the shortcomings. So many shortcomings.

  5. April 17, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Hi Brian. Good hitters rarely get into extended slumps. The same for fielding. Murphy is getting more comfortable and his confidence will continue to grow. Less pressure on him and it shows in his hitting. Now if we can do something about the pen and numbers 4 and 5 starters then we might have a decent season.

  6. Joe Vasile
    April 17, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    I feel Murphy gets an unfair rap for being a bad fielder. Most of his defensive issues stem from the ill-fated outfield experiment. In over 1300 innings at first he has a 6.3 UZR/150, at third base, it’s 7.2 (albeit in a much smaller sample size). Second base was an adventure last season, but it was his first full season at the position. That being said, he has made some incredible strides and I continue to be amazed by some of the things he does with the glove.

  7. Jerry Grote
    April 20, 2013 at 10:17 am

    I don’t have much in the way statistical chops for this conversation, but one of the things it seems is that TC has gone with a group of pitchers (other than Harvey) notable for their ability to produce ground balls.

    So the first question would be if UZR accounts for an increase of grounders hit in general, then do the Mets produce more? And even given that, has Murphy simply been picking up more of the balls headed towards the middle, and so just making up for a reduced Tejada? (Granted, I should just look this stuff up)

    Finally, I often wonder if there is a correlation between hitting and fielding. When you are doing well in one, doesn’t it indicate a confluence of events that you are physically in a groove?

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