Realistically, the Mets go into the 2010 season unsure of what they will get from either Jeff Francoeur or Daniel Murphy. Francoeur has much more of a track record in the majors than Murphy, but his production has been so inconsistent (WARs ranging from 3.7 to -1.2) that anyone who says they know what to expect is lying.
The fascinating part is that their production in the majors has been somewhat similar yet the expectations, at least from some vocal fans and media members, are completely opposite. Let’s start with their career numbers:
Jeff Francoeur: .271/.311/.432
Daniel Murphy: .275/.331/.437
It is not much of a surprise that Murphy has an edge in OBP but how many thought that he had an edge in SLG, too? Francoeur has a slight positional edge as a RF, but Murphy likely cancels that out by being an above-average defender according to UZR, John Dewan’s Plus/Minus and Chris Dial’s DRS while UZR and Dial both show Francoeur as a liability defensively last year.
Basically, it is a coin flip over which one of these two is a better bet to be productive in 2010.
To make the comparison even more interesting, both are struggling mightily this Spring while top prospects and potential replacements are burning up the Grapefruit League. Here are their batting numbers thru Monday’s games:
Jeff Francoeur: .194/.265/.323
Daniel Murphy: .133/.176/.233
Francoeur has one more AB, two extra hits, a double and a walk over Murphy. They each have 1 HR. Meanwhile, here is what two of the team’s top prospects are doing this Spring:
F. Martinez: .447/.425/.868
Ike Davis: .480/.536/.960
Davis’ numbers are more impressive, but Martinez has major league experience under his belt while Davis has half a season of Double-A to his credit.
Yet speculation has begun that the Mets need to replace Murphy. Blogger Mike Silva recently had a post entitled, “Daniel Murphy Doesn’t Deserve 1B Job” which was influenced in part by an entry by New York Post writer Joel Sherman’s Hardball column in which he wrote of Murphy, “He is always going to lack either the bat or the glove or both to justify a starting position anywhere.”
But to the best of my knowledge, there have been no recent stories calling for Francoeur to end up on the bench. My theory is that the stat-centric bloggers who feel this way are burned out on the topic, while the mainstream media is too caught up in what a swell guy Francoeur is. Perhaps Murphy needs to spend less time working on his game between the lines and more time pressing the flesh and playing nice with the media in order to get the same kid-gloves treatment that Francoeur receives.
Francoeur has the media eating out of his hands in New York, just like he did for years in Atlanta. I offer hearty kudos to him for having those PR skills. But unfortunately they do not do anything for the club in between the lines. Francoeur could hit .310 this season and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise. However, I expect him to hit in the .260 range.
Put simply, Francoeur has had three stints in the majors when he has performed well. They are: When he first reached the majors (257 ABs) in 2005, 2007 and last year with the Mets (289 ABs). The common denominator in those three stints is that he posted BABIPs of .337, .337 and .336 in those periods.
By contrast, he has had three stints where he has performed, let’s say, poorly. They are: 2006, 2008 and 2009 with the Braves (304 ABs). The common denominator in those three stints is that he posted BABIPs of .284, .274 and .276 in those periods.
Let’s break down those performances:
Good Francoeur: .299/.337/.480 in 1278 PA
Poor Francoeur: .250/.291/.395 in 1663 PA
Even “Good Francoeur” only gives you an OPS of .817, which would have been the 69th-best mark in the majors last year. And that total is inflated by his debut season, in which he notched an .884 OPS in 257 ABs. In his four full seasons in the majors, Francoeur’s best OPS is .782, which would have ranked 95th-best last year.
Earlier, it was mentioned that Francoeur has more of a track record. And, unfortunately for him, that track record shows he is not likely to be very good in the things that actually matter to winning games.
Meanwhile, let’s break down Murphy. Because of his limited time in the majors, we need to break down his 2009 season into smaller segments, along the lines of his time in the majors in 2008. Here’s what we get:
2008: 151 PA, .313/.397/.473
2009: 108 PA, .298/.364/.457
2009: 182 PA, .204/.272/.290
2009: 266 PA, .294/.321/.504
Now, let’s put that in the same way we did with Francoeur.
Good Murphy: .300/.352/.486 in 525 PA
Poor Murphy: .204/.272/.290 in 182 PA
While “Poor Francoeur” is slightly more likely to show up than “Good Francoeur,” we have seen “Good Murphy” three times as often as “Poor Murphy.” Remind me again which one people want to bench because of 30-odd poor Spring Training at-bats.
Murphy had 182 PA where he was terrible. This also translated to the time when Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado went down with injuries and Murphy found himself learning a new position in the majors. Could be coincidence, could mean that he felt a lot of pressure and cracked. Either way, those 182 PA were completely out of character with what he hit the remainder of his time in the majors.
And in his final year in the minors, Murphy put up a .308/.374/.496 line in Double-A.
So, on one hand we have Francoeur, who needs an abnormally high BABIP to be a useful hitter, and one who has been terrible more often than not in his 4 ½ seasons in the majors. And on the other hand we have Murphy, who has struggled in 182 PA over the last two seasons but otherwise hit at a rate slightly better than “Good” Francoeur.
If one of these hitters needs to be benched, it’s not Murphy.