Recently, the Mets let it be known that if they re-sign Jose Reyes, that Ruben Tejada will be the team’s starting second baseman in 2012. And if Reyes bolts, they’ll move Tejada to shortstop and have Daniel Murphy starting at second base. Many fans seem surprised by this news, figuring that Murphy’s career in the middle of the infield was over.
In 2011, Murphy posted a .320/.362/.448 line. Compare that to the .284/.360/.335 mark posted by Tejada or the .260/.334/.356 line of Justin Turner. The surprise shouldn’t be that the Mets want to play Murphy at second base if Reyes leaves – the surprise should be that he’s not the first option regardless of who plays shortstop.
The immediate reaction of most fans is that Murphy has had his season cut short in both 2010 and 2011 due to injuries around the second base bag. Therefore he should not be allowed to play there going forward.
Most people agree that the slide that ended his season in 2010 was dirty. Most people also agree that the slide that ended his 2011 season was a poor one (not a dirty one) but one that Murphy left himself in a bad spot. So, let’s ignore the 2010 one – which could have happened to anyone – and focus on 2011.
Which one would you rather do – would you rather teach Murphy how to better position himself on double play chances or would you rather teach Tejada how to post an ISO greater than .051 or Turner how to both hit and field better?
The Mets are simply not a good enough team to be content leaving Murphy and his 125 OPS+ bat on the bench. A lot of people just aren’t convinced that Murphy is really that good of a hitter. But he is. I know I’ve printed this chart before, so please forgive me as I get ready to print it again. Essentially, Murphy has been this good for 948 of his 1,130 PA in the majors
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, 423 PA, .320/.362/.448 – OPS .809
What Murphy did with the bat last year is not a surprise. This is who he is. A 125 OPS+ plays just about anywhere in the field. At second base it is a tremendous asset. Last year Murphy’s 125 OPS+ would tie for ninth (with Ryan Howard) among first baseman with 400 PA. At second base, it would be tied for fourth best.
No Mets fan should be satisfied with Murphy sitting on the bench or being utilized as a super sub. His defense at second base is not going to improve by playing there once or twice a week. He needs to go out and take reps on a daily basis and spend the rest of the offseason working out to prepare as a second baseman. He doesn’t need to wonder from day to day if he’s playing the infield or outfield and if he is playing the infield whether that’s at first base or second or third.
Also, let’s remember that the advanced defensive metrics do not see Murphy as being a terrible defender in his brief time at second base. UZR actually likes Murphy at second quite a bit, although DRS does not share that opinion. The bottom line is that he has not played enough innings to really form a solid opinion of his defense.
Is it possible Murphy gets hurt again if he plays substantial time at second base next year? Absolutely. But there’s also a reasonable chance that he plays the entire year without getting hurt. And is there any reason for a team that has finished under .500 three consecutive seasons to play it safe? The Mets should be doing whatever they can to maximize the talent on hand.
What’s the worst-case scenario? Murphy gets hurt again and you move to Plan B. But the Mets have several options here that are not horrible. Tejada, if he’s not the starting shortstop, Turner or even Reese Havens or Jordany Valdespin. The Mets are not without choices if the worst thing happens.
More importantly, what’s the best thing that can happen? Murphy, at age 27, can improve upon his strong offensive numbers and his defense turns out to be average (or better) making him one of the top all-around second basemen in the majors. No one doubts Murphy’s work ethic. Isn’t it possible he could turn himself into a decent defensive player at second base? He already did this at first base, despite never having played there before.
Even if you calculate that the best-case scenario has less than a 10 percent chance of happening – isn’t a minimum shot of that type of upside worth rolling the dice on in the particular case the Mets find themselves in for the 2012 season? Especially when you note that ZiPS projects Turner for a .265/.327/.372 line this year and Tejada for a .259/.329/.339 mark.
If the Mets are going to improve in 2012, they need to have their best players on the field on a regular basis. Throughout the bulk of his career with the Mets, Murphy has been a very good hitter. It would be a great advantage if the Mets could have Murphy at second base, where his offense figures to be among the league’s best. And while his defense may not be Gold Glove caliber, he does not figure to be Boswell-esque, either. The only way to know for sure is to give him as many reps as possible and hope that with coaching he can improve his technique around the bag and avoid injury.