Why half the fan base opposes Daniel Murphy

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:

1B: -1.0
2B: -0.5
3B: -1.2

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.

10 comments for “Why half the fan base opposes Daniel Murphy

  1. February 12, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Great article. I think Murphy has always shown good range whether he was playing first base, second base or third. My main concern is not only Murphy’s health but also his ability to turn the double play. Turner is just not a good enough fielder to be an everyday second baseman. The real question is who is the long term answer at second. Valdespin is the only player in the Mets system that is the same kind of dynamic player that Jose Reyes is or was. The question is do the Mets overlook Valdespin’s obp issues and give him a shot or does Havens get healthy and take over? The Mets need a leadoff hitter but what we know from moneyball is that stolen bases and dynamic players are not a high priority for Alderson so does that work against Valdespin? If Pelfrey has really committed to the sinker then double plays are going to be huge in the Mets success. Santana even if he is healthy is probably going to be transitioning into a pitch to contact pitcher rather than a strikeout pitcher and Dickey has never struck out a lot of hitters. My concern for the Mets is that winning teams usually are built around pitching and defense and this 2012 version seems to be built around offense first. I think with Chip Hale being gone the Mets will be much improved in infield defense. As great a third base coach as Hale was he was equally horrible as an infield coach. Teufel will make a huge difference in the infield defense and Geren should help Thole correct some of his defensive issues. If Murphy is willing to try to master second base after having two horrendous knee injuries I think we as fans should give him that chance. Hopefully the Mets will be smarter about this, this time around, and keep Murphy out of games until he can turn double plays with out putting himself in danger. If he can’t then let’s hope Valdespin or Havens is ready.

  2. February 12, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    I think that when you’ve got a guy who has proven that he can hit on the major league level, you’ve got to give him serious consideration over anybody else. And so we have Daniel Murphy at 2B. I also approve.

  3. Brandon Lee
    February 12, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Great research for this article.
    I believe Murphy can be an average fielding second baseman with enough time there just because of his work ethic and commitment to improving himself. The thing with Murphy is that he doesn’t hit for enough power to be a major league 1B/DH and he just can’t play the outfield.
    He’s a third baseman but he can’t play there until the Mets trade Wright, which I think will happen eventually. I think he really just needs to play second for this season and then he will be able to go back to third.
    But if he can play second just OK, and hit like he did last season, he’d be one of the most valuable second baseman in the NL.

    • Metsense
      February 12, 2012 at 6:01 pm

      Murphy is better than Turner as Brian has pointed out. He should be the second baseman until he proves he can’t OR until he moves to third if Wright departs through trade or free agency. If Wright stays, then the Mets dilemma is if Valdespin or Havens is pushing hard to be promoted. The Mets would be glad to have these type of problems. Brian, I read Metsblog and I enjoy the writers balanced opinions but the majority of comments are usually blusterous and not based on too many facts. It is one of the many reasons I enjoy your blog the best.

      • AJ
        February 12, 2012 at 10:51 pm

        Metsense said: “the majority of comments are usually blusterous and not based on too many facts.” Let’s take that a step further – the great majority of people who comment on Internet forums, baseball or just about any other subject, have precious little idea what they’re talking about. They’re just giving their opinion. They’re spouting off. That’s fine, we have freedom of speech and there is nothing to stop a person from commenting on anything they want to, no matter if they have enough information, insight or intelligence to justify doing so.

        Daniel Murphy is a professional athlete. I wonder if any of the people saying he is not athletic enough can make the same claim? Hands of stone? Poor feet? The GM, manager and coaches apparently don’t think so – but what do they know? Just because they’ve spent a lifetime in the game and get paid to evaluate and develop talent, why would you want to trust their opinion over that of someone who has a day job doing who-knows-what and then sits on the couch with a beer at night and watches baseball on TV? Not a good enough hitter? If I remember correctly, Murph was in the top 5 in batting in the NL when he was injured last season. I guess if he was a REALLY good hitter, he would have been in the top 3.

        I like Daniel Murphy. Don’t know him personally, but I like to watch him play baseball and I like that he seems to have that kind of scrappy personality, like Wally Backman or Lenny Dykstra did. The Mets need players who play the game that way. I hope he doesn’t get hurt again this year, but I would be willing to bet Murph won’t be holding anything back when he’s out there on the field

  4. cpins
    February 12, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    I’m a Murphy fan and think it’s worth taking a shot w/him at 2B but . . .

    Tuefel has no choice but to say he thinks it can work. He’s etting marching orders from above. But that’s different than him actually thinking it’s a good idea.

    If you take such metrics seriously you really shouldn’t cite them for Murph at 2B – sample size makes them completely unreliable. Citing scientific metrics whose sample size is too small to be reliable is well . . . anti-scientific.

    Comparing him to Turner? I know we’ve fallen but that far?

  5. Jeronimo Briggz
    February 12, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    Great article. In my opinion I believe Murphy is more than adequate in the field and you can look at his highlight plays at each of those positions, which required and displayed considerable athleticism to turn in, and conclude that yes the “talent” plus the ability are there. But w/e right what do I know? …. If I were Sandy Alderson I would trade David Wright for frontline pitching and slide Murphy to 3rd base. That would cut much needed salary for free-agency next year and give a chance for “prospects” in the minors to blossom upstairs. 2006 shouldve led to a fire-sale and it is time to correct that. Still I also believe what Sandy is doing now will lead to an exciting if not competitive team for 2012. P.S. Daniel Murphy will win silver slugger at 2b if he can manage to stay healthy.

  6. February 13, 2012 at 3:04 am

    Brian,
    Have you waved this in front of the Murphy haters yet?

  7. Tony
    February 13, 2012 at 10:20 am

    DM has hit better and with more consistency than I ever would’ve given him credit prior to 2011. However, any attempt to defend his record as an inept MIF really undermines your credibility as an objective reporter, blogger or whatever you call yourself. His best positions are 1B and 3B. Since we’ve got guys at those positions, his best bet would be on the bench as a super-sub or trade him to the AL for a piece who’s a better fit. The fact that the Mets are still trying to shoehorn his bat in the line up is a testament to how bad the options are offensively and at second base than DM’s athleticism.

    • Brian Joura
      February 13, 2012 at 10:27 am

      I don’t think the argument is that 2B is his best position.

      The argument is that he’s too good to be on the bench, especially when your other options are Ronny Cedeno and Justin Turner. If Murphy can play a full season at 2B, he’ll be in the top 10 in MLB among players at the position from a total value perspective. The 10th-best 2B in fWAR last year had a 2.7 mark. Murphy had a 3.2 fWAR in 423 PA. That type of talent needs to be on the field, especially for a team that some predict could lose 100 games this year.

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