Is Lou Piniella a good comp for Daniel Murphy?

I am a Daniel Murphy fan. I think his bat is an asset wherever he plays, the concerns about his defense are overblown and the baserunning gaffes, well I’ll live with them. The latest news is that Murphy is the favorite to be the team’s second baseman in 2012, a move I support 100 percent. Seemingly, this puts me in the minority among Mets fans, who aren’t sold on his bat, think he’s a giant negative on defense and cringe every time he has to make a play.

Looking to see if I could find something new about Murphy, I was examining his Baseball-Reference page and was checking out his similarity scores. Most of you know what these are, but if this is the first you’ve heard of these, here’s how they’re computed:

To compare one player to another, start at 1000 points and then you subtract points based on the statistical differences of each player.

Batters
• One point for each difference of 20 games played.
• One point for each difference of 75 at bats.
• One point for each difference of 10 runs scored.
• One point for each difference of 15 hits.
• One point for each difference of 5 doubles.
• One point for each difference of 4 triples.
• One point for each difference of 2 home runs.
• One point for each difference of 10 RBI.
• One point for each difference of 25 walks.
• One point for each difference of 150 strikeouts.
• One point for each difference of 20 stolen bases.
• One point for each difference of .001 in batting average.
• One point for each difference of .002 in slugging percentage.

There’s also a positional adjustment used, so that the comparison are typically between hitters who played similar positions among the defensive spectrum. If two players have a score of 900 or above they are similar. If they have a score of 950 or above, they are truly similar.

When we look at Murphy’s age-based comps, the best we can say is that they are a mixed bag. There are people who played 15 years in the majors and others who flamed out after their promising start. By far the most interesting one was Lou Piniella, who had a 966 similarity score and who was the fourth-best comp for Murphy.

Now, I have to admit, I never thought of Piniella as being a comp for Murphy, but it’s not a horrible match. Both players were good contact hitters. Neither one had great over the fence power, but could drive the ball and neither would be described as a Punch and Judy hitter. Neither player was a star defender and neither will be recalled fondly for their baserunning exploits. Here are their offensive numbers through their age 26 season:

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBIs BB SO SB AVG SLG
Murphy 313 1030 133 301 75 9 20 129 80 139 9 .292 .441
Piniella 289 1041 98 302 45 11 22 157 68 98 5 .290 .418

Murphy has more power while Piniella struck out less often. One thing to keep in mind is that while the raw stats are close, they were tallied in different eras. But when we compare them by OPS+, which adjusts for ballpark and era, we see that they are still good comps. Piniella had a 108 OPS+ through his age 26 season while Murphy checks in with a 111 OPS+.

At age 27, Piniella had one of the worst seasons of his career, as he dropped nearly 100 points of OPS from the previous year. But he bounced back at age 28 and made the All-Star team for the only time in his career, Piniella had another rough year in 1973 and following the season was traded to the Yankees. He had a nice comeback season in 1974 and drew MVP votes.

An inner ear infection sidelined Piniella for most of the 1975 season. He came back to play nine more years in the majors, but never again topped 130 games in a season. He hit whenever given the chance, posting a 116 OPS+ from ages 32-40, a stretch of 2,789 PA.

Piniella always hit LHP and was more of a platoon player near the end of his career. Lifetime he had an .809 OPS versus lefties and a .672 mark against righties. Murphy has a .793 OPS lifetime versus RHP and a .742 mark against LHP so far in his career.

Personally, I think Murphy is better than Piniella and following the 2012 season they will not be among each other’s age-based comparisons, as I expect Murphy to outperform Piniella’s 1971 season. Still, if Murphy plays in the majors through age 40, like Piniella did, that would be wonderful.