If we polled 100 Mets fans and asked them to name their favorite player, the top two responses would undoubtedly be Jose Reyes and David Wright. Those two players came up through the Mets farm system and are dynamic players capable of doing a bunch of different things on the baseball field. The perception is that these two guys are stars on both offense and defense.

That perception is wrong.

In 2007 and 2008, Reyes and Wright were stars on both sides of the ball. But in the past two years they’ve fallen off significantly. In 2007, Reyes had 11 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and a UZR/150 of 11.6 while Wright had 13 DRS and a 6.3 UZR/150. Last year Reyes had 0 DRS and a UZR/150 of -5.7 while Wright checked in with -10 DRS and a -9.5 UZR/150.

Last year 19 third basemen had enough innings to qualify for the FanGraphs leaderboards and Wright finished 17th in DRS, 17th in Revised Zone Rating (RZR) and 19th, also known as dead last, in UZR/150. And before you say it’s a one-year blip, in 2009 Wright finished 13th among 18 qualifiers at the hot corner in RZR, 17th in DRS and 18th (again dead last) in UZR/150.

So, we have two years of data and three different advanced defensive measures and they all agree – Wright is a bad defensive player. But does that mean he should not be in the lineup? To most people that is an absurd idea. Wright is so good on offense that it negates his defensive troubles and the overall package is still a very valuable player.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) looks to grade a player on his total contributions on offense and defense and give a total number. A WAR of 2.0 is an average player while a 0.0 mark is what a replacement player should produce. Last year, despite his -10.6 UZR (not adjusted to 150 games), Wright still finished with a fWAR of 4.1, the seventh-best total among 23 third basemen in the majors.

Which brings us to Daniel Murphy.

Like Reyes and Wright, Murphy came up through the farm system although he was not able to settle in at his preferred position of third base. They tried him in left field, which did not work so well. Then the Mets moved him to first base and after an adjustment period, that worked quite well. And then he got hurt and lost the first base job to Ike Davis.

Murphy allegedly came to Spring Training along with three others in a battle to win the second base job. Here are the OPS numbers for the 2B contenders this Spring:

Castillo – .641
Emaus – .664
Murphy – .771
Turner – .564

One would think that Murphy won this competition pretty handily. However, that does not seem to be the case. Questions about his defense have led many to view him as a backup instead of as a regular. It has been alleged that Luis Hernandez is now the front runner in the manager’s eye for the second base job. So, how bad does Murphy’s defense have to be to negate his offensive edge on Hernandez?

Neither player has a ton of MLB experience. But in 707 lifetime PA in the majors, Murphy has a .768 OPS while Hernandez has a .584 mark in 290 PA. If we go back to the minor league days, Murphy has an .808 OPS in 1,126 PA while Hernandez has a .633 OPS in 3,324 PA.

Both players have an argument why their OPS is not indicative of their offensive potential. For Murphy, he had a two-month stretch in 2009 when he hit like, uh, Luis Hernandez as he made the transition to first base. Here are his major league numbers, broken down in segments:

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

Murphy has 525 PA in the majors that say he’s a pretty good offensive player and 182 PA where he resembles a sub-replacement player.

Meanwhile, Hernandez has been better recently with the bat than he was earlier in his career. In 2009 at Triple-A Omaha, he put up a .725 OPS and last year split between Double and Triple-A he posted a .735 OPS. Even in his brief stint in the majors, Hernandez put up a .707 OPS last year and so far this Spring he has a .751 OPS in 25 PA.

Let’s ignore the bulk of the evidence and say that the .707 OPS that Hernandez put up in the majors last year is his true talent level while Murphy’s lifetime OPS in the majors of .768 is his true talent level. How much better on defense would Hernandez have to be to make up a 61-point OPS gap?

Last year, Howie Kendrick had a 56-point OPS edge on Aaron Hill. Kendrick also was one of the worst-fielding full-time second basemen with -11 DRS and a -6.7 UZR while Hill was above-average with a +9 DRS and a 3.6 UZR. And Kendrick still put up the better overall season with a 1.6 fWAR while Hill finished with a 1.1 fWAR.

So a difference of 10.3 UZR was not enough to catapult the weaker offensive player past the superior offensive player. And we are assuming that Hernandez actually is this good offensively, which is a leap of faith. Plus it’s far from certain that Hernandez is even this good defensively. In a brief trial in the majors, Hernandez has a -5.7 UZR/150 at second base.

On the flip side, we are also assuming that Murphy will be this bad defensively, which is hardly a sure thing. Murphy was actually a fine defensive first baseman, as he posted an 8.7 UZR/150. His range was outstanding at 7.4 RngR. But Murphy figures to be below average in both hands and turning the double play at second base.

Among full-time second baseman last year, the player with the worst hands (the one with the worst ErrR) was Chone Figgins, who had a -6.4 while the one who was worst at turning the double play was Howie Kendrick at -2.1 DPR. So, let’s assume Murphy is worse at both of these, giving him a -7.0 ErrR and a -3.0 in DPR. He then just needs to post a 3.3 in RngR to be as good defensively as Kendrick was last season. In other words, he needs to show less than half of the range he did at first base.

Murphy is likely to be better with his hands than what we show here. And he’s likely to post better range numbers, too. Basically, there’s not overwhelming evidence to think that Murphy would be the worst defensive second baseman in the majors and even less reason to think that Hernandez could make up defensively what he trails offensively compared to Murphy.

If given a chance at second base, Murphy has a good shot to post better defensive numbers for his position than Wright did last year for third basemen. Even if we give Murphy a -7.0 ErrR and a -3.0 DPR, he would have to put up a negative RngR number to be worse than Wright. No one is suggesting that the Mets bench Wright. While Murphy’s offense won’t be as good as Wright’s, he will still enjoy a tremendous offensive edge over Hernandez, one big enough to make benching him a mistake.

6 comments on “Is Daniel Murphy’s defense worse than David Wright’s?

  • Brian Joura

    One thing I did not mention explicitly in the article is that outside of Murphy and Hernandez’ minor league numbers, all of these are small sample sizes and there is nothing wrong with treating them with some skepticism.

  • MatthewA

    I’ve found it interesting that the only way that Hernandez looks better at second base than Murphy is if he can put up a defensive effort that rivals Rey Ordonez in the late ’90s. Otherwise, it’s a wash.

    I’m not sold on Murphy at second base, but he’d at least benefit somewhat from the regular playing time. There’s no room at Triple A or Double A for any more auditions, whereas Hernandez will always be what he is – a mediocre hitter and decent fielder.

  • Mike Koehler

    I’m no Joe Beningo (he happily trashed sabermetrics lovers yesterday) but at one point do the numbers miss what’s going on in the game? You’re going to tell me Wright’s a bad defensive third baseman? I’ll agree his head can make routine throws to first interesting, but what about his dive into the stands or behind the back catch? He does pretty well getting to balls and can make the tough plays… sometimes he just thinks to much about the easy ones.

    • Brian Joura

      This is the Jeter argument – he can’t possibly be bad, look at all his highlight reel plays!

      I already mentioned some advanced fielding numbers so let’s go old school. Guess which third baseman had the most errors last year? David Wright

      And while his errors are partly due to his number of chances, his fielding percentage climbs all the way from 19th to 14th — still below average.

      He does pretty well getting to balls? No, he really doesn’t. BIS tracks balls hit into fielder zones and corresponding numbers turned into outs and Wright finished 17th out of 19 qualified fielders with a .688 Revised Zone Rating. The leader in the category was Jose Lopez, who had a .766 RZR. The difference between Lopez and Wright? Lopez would get to 29 more balls than Wright if they both had Wright’s 2010 chances.

      Think that doesn’t sound like much? Well, what if we gave Wright 29 more hits last year – his AVG would jump 49 points to .332 for the year.

      People were ragging on A-Rod, saying he should become a DH. Well, his RZR was .746, significantly better than Wright’s.

      Mets fans haven’t seen someone at 3B besides Wright in a long time, so it can be hard to judge. Also, it doesn’t help that the guy who held the job before him, Ty Wigginton, was even worse at 3B. In 2003, Wigginton ranked dead last with a .634 RZR. The leader that year was Adrian Beltre, who had a .741 RZR

      • MatthewA

        Mets fans haven’t seen someone at 3B besides Wright in a long time, so it can be hard to judge.

        And I hope they keep it that way for a long, long time.

  • […] 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 […]

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