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.