With Jose Reyes and David Wright both seemingly on the verge of returning from the disabled list, the Mets are inching closer to having their full offensive team available. When those stars return the obvious plan is to have Justin Turner and Ruben Tejada battle it out for the starting job at second base. But if that’s what the Mets do, it will be a mistake.
Seemingly, one of the goals of 2011 has been to compete for a playoff spot as long as possible while also keeping in mind that the team is in transition and that another goal is to determine who fits where for 2012 and beyond. With that second goal in mind, the Mets should be working Daniel Murphy back into the mix at second base.
If one thing should be obvious to everyone by now, it’s that Murphy is a better hitter than either Tejada or Turner. For a few weeks it looked like Turner and Murphy were equals at the plate but the further we are removed from Turner’s three-week hot spell, the sillier that thought appears. Let’s look at the preseason ZiPS projections for all three players:
Coming into the season, ZiPS saw Murphy as being 67 points better in OPS. And this was with Murphy coming off a year in which he missed the entire season due to injury. Now let’s look at the actual OPS numbers:
Murphy — .809
Tejada — .623
Turner — .677
Both Tejada and Turner are slightly below their projected OPS numbers, while Murphy has exceeded his by 45 points. So, Murphy was thought to be the better hitter at the start of the year and has only lengthened the gap between he and the other second base candidates with his play in 2011.
Of course, offense is only part of the equation. Most believe that Murphy is the worst of these three players defensively at second base. But does his supposed weakness in the field outweigh his known superiority at the plate? How bad would he have to be for Tejada or Turner to be the preferred choice as the starter at second base in 2012?
In Spring Training, I looked at this offense/defense question in regards to Murphy and Luis Hernandez, who was the flavor of the moment for the starting job at second base. Giving Hernandez the supreme benefit of the doubt, it was assumed that Murphy was 61 points better in OPS. Using fWAR as the measure of a player’s total contribution, we found that a difference of 10.3 UZR would not be enough to make up the 61-point OPS advantage.
In an extremely limited sample, Murphy has a 13.8 UZR/150 this season while playing second base. Now, I do not believe Murphy is that good defensively at second base. I would expect a fair amount of “regression” to occur if he were to play there for a full season. But, from what we’ve seen in a limited sample, there is nothing to identify him as a terrible fielder.
Turner would have to be the best defensive second baseman in the history of the game, if Murphy’s 2011 UZR numbers are to be believed, to be a better option at second base. He would have to be the third-best fielder in 2011 (or as good as Ian Kinsler’s been this season) to be equal if we assume that Murphy is an average fielder at second base.
But here’s the dirty secret that nobody talks about. For second baseman with at least 200 innings played defensively, Turner ranks 38th out of 41 players with a -12.7 UZR/150. Tejada also makes the list, and his UZR/150 is much better at 4.6 (tied for 13th) but still nowhere near enough to catapult him ahead of Murphy.
Basically, there is no reason to think that anyone other than Murphy should be the club’s starting second baseman in 2012. He is clearly the best hitter and his defense has given no signs of being an issue. Meanwhile, Tejada’s defense is not nearly as good as his reputation and Turner’s is actually as bad as Murphy’s was rumored to be.
The Mets have to get Murphy more reps at second base the remainder of the 2011 season. He should start getting some right now, with either Lucas Duda or Nick Evans getting the playing time at first base. I know fans think that Turner should be in the lineup on a regular basis but there is no objective reason to want him out there.
ZiPS didn’t think he was all that great with the bat coming into the season and Dan Szymborski’s projection has turned out to be an optimistic one, with Turner actually 20 points beneath his preseason forecast. Plus, Turner has been awful defensively at second base this year.
Turner is an MLB-quality player, just not a starter. But the Mets should use the rest of the 2011 season to find out if Duda and Evans should be part of the 2012 team. Most importantly, Murphy should play games at second base, whether Ike Davis returns this year or not.