This breaking news just in – Daniel Murphy can still hit.
Last night’s 3-for-4 game raised Murphy’s overall numbers on the year to .286/.342/.486. His .828 OPS is tied for ninth among second baseman with at least 30 PA this season. Overall, 39 second basemen have reached that plateau and Brad Emaus ranks 39th with his .424 mark.
Rather than give Murphy a shot at second base from the start, the Mets bent over backwards to have someone else at the position. They gave multiple ABs this Spring to Luis Castillo and then cut him saying his relationship with the fans of New York made it impossible for him to continue with the club.
Then why give him any Spring Training playing time at all? At .308, Murphy had the highest AVG of any of the five candidates in ST for the second base job. So of course he broke camp as a backup. The stated reason was that they didn’t think he could handle the position defensively and they preferred him in a super-sub role.
Of course, they could have given him more time defensively at the position, instead of wasting time on Castillo (and to a lesser extent Luis Hernandez and Justin Turner) to give him more reps and give themselves more time to fairly evaluate him. Instead, Terry Collins had his mind made up that Murphy couldn’t handle the position defensively.
I’m not sure which idea was more repulsive. On one hand we have the idea that Murphy could not hack it defensively. But this notion was created almost exclusively without proof. On the other hand, his manager wanted him to be a super-sub. But where was he going to play besides second base?
Supposedly, Murphy did not look good at a very brief trial at second base, he played 17 games there in Double-A, in 2008. And he got hurt on what has been described as a vicious/dirty take-out slide last year in the minors.
The Mets were willing to throw him in left field in 2008 without any previous experience whatsoever. They moved him to first base in 2009 without any previous experience. The outfield experiment did not go so well. The infield experiment was a success. So, based on these results, the team concluded that he could not hack it defensively at another infield position? It did not then, nor does it now in hindsight, make any sense.
As frustrating as that was, I’m not sure the idea of him as a super-sub was any better. Where could he play in this role? He didn’t figure to see much time at third base, his natural position, since David Wright has that slot nailed down. At first base, he was unlikely to see any playing time over Ike Davis, especially since both batters are lefty hitters. And no one wanted to see him play the outfield on anything except an emergency basis.
Unfortunately, the Mets have a history of focusing on what a player (allegedly) can’t do, instead of what he can do. Probably the most famous example of this was with Wally Backman, who lost out on playing time to the immortals Doug Flynn and Brian Giles because they were worried about his defensive abilities. Instead, they should have been worried about Flynn and Giles and their complete inability to hit major league pitching.
The vast majority of evidence around Murphy indicates that he can hit major league pitching. In his first full season in the minors, Murphy put up a .768 OPS in the Florida State League. His next year he put up an .872 OPS while playing the vast majority of the season in Double-A. And here’s what he’s done in the majors, broken down into smaller chunks:
2008, 151 PA, .313/.397/.473 – OPS .870
2009, 108 PA, .298/.364/.457 – OPS .821
2009, 182 PA, .204/.272/.290 – OPS .562
2009, 266 PA, .294/.321/.504 – OPS .825
2011, 38 PA, .286/.342/.486 – OPS .828
Murphy has 563 PA in the majors that say he’s a pretty good offensive player and 182 PA where he resembles a sub-replacement player. And those 182 came while he was getting raked over the coals for his defensive play in LF and then transitioning to a new position at 1B.
How bad was his defense going to have to be to negate that offensive ability? And it’s not like the Mets have been spoiled by having Bill Mazeroski play second base for them the past few years. Did the Mets’ brass really think that Murphy was going to be significantly worse than 2008-09 Luis Castillo out there?
I think now is a good time to mention that Murphy successfully handled the pivot yesterday on three double play chances. In an extremely limited sample, Murphy has an 18.1 UZR/150. Compare that to known bad fielders like Dan Uggla (-14.4 UZR/150 currently), Kelly Johnson (-23.2) or Rickie Weeks (-35.5).
And any worries that Murphy would have trouble with his hitting when he played 2B seem unfounded here in the very early going. In seven games at 2B, Murphy has a .333/.407/.625 slash line.
So, Murphy has showed the ability to hit when given the chance. His defensive play at second base has been much, much better than the naysayers wanted us to believe. So, where do we go from here?
To the bench! Because Collins views Murphy as a platoon player and the Mets are getting ready to face two LHP. But don’t get too discouraged. A platoon role is better than he started the year with and we should take progress wherever we find it.