Mets fans are a diverse lot. However, there is an awful lot regarding the team with which the vast majority of us can agree. We all want owners who will fund a payroll in line with what other large market clubs do, we all love R.A. Dickey and we all want to see Ike Davis play in 150 games this year.
Because so many issues on the team are cut and dried, the ones where the fan base has a legitimate difference of opinion are fascinating to me. And nowhere is that divide more evident than the views on Daniel Murphy. As I am sure you all know by now, I am a Daniel Murphy backer. But I am going to try my best to present the pros and cons in regards to Murphy.
Here are some comments from recent threads over at MetsBlog taken from people who are not quite as sold as I that Murphy is the answer at second base in 2012, or ever. All spelling and punctuation comes from the original poster.
“You cannot teach athleticism, which is the largest prerequisite for playing a MIF position. Two major knee injuries in less than 25 games, caused by his inability to move around the bag…that’s not good.”
“If Teufel turns Murphy into a below average 2b, he deserves to go to Cooperstown.”
“More like beatified given there is a documented miracle. “
“St. Tim, patron saint of men with stone hands and poor footwork.”
“If Havens is healthy this season, Murphy and his hype are out of here. “
“He has failed at the position TWICE!!! The guy is going to get killed there, he is not mobile enough.”
“But he’s been the victim of two major knee injuries in 24 games because of his inability to move around the bag properly. It will take a miracle for him to stay healthy for 150 games.”
“Teufel really thinks that he can teach Murphy second base in six weeks? There are people who have been playing second base for years, how come they don’t get a chance? Because people think this guy is a great hitter? Sheesh!”
“Stop with all this nonsense. Murphy is a terrible defensive player, period. Anyone who thinks he’s going to get significantly better at this point in his life is delusional.”
So, here’s where it seems the anti-Murphy crowd stands: Not athletic enough for 2B – Stone hands – Poor footwork – Hitting is not all it’s cracked up to be. Let’s look at these concerns.
Not athletic enough for 2B
Murphy came up through the minors as a third baseman, moved to left field, moved to first base and now is trying to make it at second base. I think that major league managers playing someone at four different spots (counting LF/RF as one spot) in the field would be an indication of a player’s athleticism, but perhaps I am wrong. It would be nice if we had NFL combine results and we could look at Murphy’s time in the 40-yard dash and how many times he bench pressed a certain amount of weight. But we don’t so let’s look at it a different way.
Murphy has 1,130 PA in his career and in that span he has 9 triples and 9 stolen bases. Compare that to Ike Davis and Lucas Duda, who have combined for 1,189 PA and have 5 triples and 4 stolen bases. Can we at least agree that he’s more athletic than Davis and Duda? I don’t think anyone would have a major issue with that statement but they might counter that you have to be more athletic than a first baseman to play in the middle of the diamond. Fair enough, but how do you judge when a player is athletic enough to play up the middle?
No one seemingly has a problem with Justin Turner playing second base. While he’ll never be confused with Bill Mazeroski, most people think that Turner handles the position just fine. But Turner is simply more experienced playing second than Murphy and knows how to avoid getting hurt. While that’s a valuable skill, it doesn’t make him athletic or a good second baseman. In 642.1 innings at second base last year, Turner had a -11 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). By comparison, Murphy had a -2 DRS in 168.1 innings. If you gave Murphy the same number of innings as Turner, he would have saved three more runs in the field than Turner – who no one complains about.
And I did not choose DRS to portray Murphy in his best light defensively. UZR is much more favorable. Last year Murphy had a 1.8 UZR and a 12.0 UZR/150 at second base. Compare that to Turner, who had a -10.4 UZR and a -19.7 UZR/150. Again, no one complains about Turner being athletic enough to play second base.
It is very fair to say that Murphy’s few innings at second base is not a large enough sample to draw any definitive conclusions. But what little evidence we do have points to him being athletic enough to handle the position defensively if he can avoid getting hurt. The people who complain about Murphy not being athletic enough to play second would be wise if they used that same argument, only more forcefully, with Turner, instead.
Stone hands, poor feet
Murphy made seven fielding errors last year. But if we look at ErrR, the fielding component of UZR, we see that Murphy had the following numbers:
Here’s the definition of ErrR: “Given the same amount of batted balls hit to a certain fielder, ErrR determines the amount of runs he saves by his ability to prevent errors compared to an average fielder at the same position.” Turner’s ErrR last year was -2. Given that Turner played 3.8 as many innings at 2B as Murphy, they were essentially equal (slight edge to Murphy) in fielding. If you complain about Murphy having stone hands, you need to say the exact same thing about Turner.
How do you judge poor feet? How about we examine how the player does turning the double play? A person with poor footwork should really suffer when he has to make the pivot. Let’s examine DPR, which is defined thusly: “Again, this is solely used for infielders. Taking “handedness” in to account, DPR determines the amount of double play outs at second against the league average. Of course, this is primarily and more significantly used for middle infielders, but it applies to the whole infield quad as well.”
As 2B, Murphy had a -0.3 DPR while Turner had a -2.7 DPR
Hitting not as good as advertised
Murphy had a .350 wOBA, the fourth-best mark on the team among those with at least 250 PA. Two of the four who finished higher – Beltran and Reyes – will not be on the 2012 team. By comparison, David Wright had a .342 wOBA last year. Turner’s was .311, which ranked ninth out of the 11 players the Mets had last year with at least 250 PA.
We don’t have enough evidence to say if Murphy can be an acceptable fielder at second base. What little evidence we do have says that he would be better than Turner. Of course the reason we don’t have more evidence is because he got hurt. There’s no benefit in being a better option to play second base if you cannot stay healthy.
Murphy wants to play and is willing to put in the work necessary to avoid getting killed. The coaches think with enough repetitions he can protect himself on the field. The manager (and by extension the front office) believe in the player and the coaches. Yet half of the fan base remains unconvinced, if not outright hostile to the idea.
Neither side is going to change their mind until the games actually start. If Murphy suffers a season-ending injury once again, the doubters will likely win and the experiment likely shelved forever. If Murphy plays the entire year without a major injury, the Mets win because they get one of the best hitters for the position in the deal.
To me, the only reason not to try this is if you have a vested (or plain humanitarian) interest in his health. Perhaps the parenthetical is implied by the people who don’t want the Mets to try him at second base. If so, I tip my hat to them. The cold reality is that I do not have that concern. One of the reasons that I do not begrudge athletes their obscene salaries is that it comes with the knowledge that it could end at any time. If Murphy can hack it at second base, his future earnings potential will skyrocket. If he crashes and burns, he’ll have to content himself with the $1,242,000 that Baseball-Reference shows that he’s already earned in the majors.
Good luck Irish Hammer, I’m hoping to see you on the Mets for another decade manning second base.