In a season thusfar filled with plenty of offensive woes, one of the few bright spots in the Mets lineup has been Daniel Murphy.
Murphy is hitting .318/.368/.451 through his first 41 games. His 1.7 fWAR not only leads Mets hitters by a wide margin, but is already the third-highest total of his career. His .359 wOBA ranks third in all of Major League Baseball for second basemen, behind Chase Utley of the Phillies and Brian Dozier of the Twins.
So what is behind the spike in Murphy’s production this season, and more importantly, can we expect it to continue?
Briefly glancing at Murphy’s stats this season, the first thing that jumps out is his .344 BABIP. Compared to his career mark of .322, one might think that perhaps this is a bit high, and therefore we can’t expect Murphy to continue hitting at the clip he currently is.
When you dig into the numbers a little further, we see that this higher BABIP is actually fully supported by his 27.5% LD%, so as long as he continues to make contact the way he has, a BABIP in the .340-.350 range is completely plausible.
But is this elevated LD% something that we can expect Murphy to be able to keep up? After all, his career LD% is 22.6%.
According to Derek Carty’s 2011 research at Baseball Prospectus, line drive rates are some of the slowest to stabilize, taking 795 plate appearances. Daniel Murphy has 190 plate appearances in 2014.
So we can expect Murphy’s LD% to regress toward his career mean over the course of the rest of the season. But how much will that affect his ability to sustain a high BABIP and therefore a high batting average?
Let’s assume that Murphy will get 650 plate appearances this year, so that over the next 460 PA, he has a LD% of exactly 22.6%. At the end of the year, Murphy would end up with at LD% of 24.0%. That’s high enough that a BABIP in the .330-.340 range would not be outlandish, and that would certainly be enough to buoy Murphy’s batting average over the .300 mark, considering his low strikeout totals.
So now that we’ve seen that his batting average is sustainable, what about his OBP and SLG, which both sit at career highs?
Quite unsatisfactorily, the answer is it depends. Murphy’s current BB% is 7.9%, by far the highest of his career since his cup of coffee in 2008. His career mark is 6.2%, but the last three years it has been 5.7%, 5.9%, and 4.6%.
The uptick in Murphy’s walk rate may be the result of his excellent eye against fastballs. He has only a 24% chase rate on fastballs, and often attacks when he gets one in the zone. What has boded well for Murphy is that so far 66.9% of the pitches he has seen are fastballs, compared to the league average of 56.1% fastballs.
He also has a 7% whiff rate against fastballs, as opposed to 25% against breaking balls, and 16% against offspeed pitches.
If the league starts to take notice that Murphy is a dead red fastball hitter and begins to throw him more breaking and offspeed pitches, his production will likely take a dip. If not, there is reason to believe that his success is sustainable given his abilities.
For the Mets’ sake, let’s hope they give him a steady diet of fastballs.
Joe Vasile is the voice of the Fayetteville SwampDogs.
 By stabilizing, I mean that at that threshold, you can begin to say with some confidence that the performance is not fluky in nature.