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.

14 comments on “The only choice at 2B for Mets is Daniel Murphy

  • Mike Koehler

    I’m not against him playing at second if he’s our best option (I could also see Turner getting some time or Tejada starting if Reyes sticks around), but I also like Murphy as a super super sub. Don’t just let him ride the bench, get him 4 AB’s, but rotate him around the field to give others a rest. We know he can play a decent first and third, get by at second and needs work in the outfield. Why not take advantage of someone who’s willing to move?

    • oleosmirf

      How is he going to get reps at 1B and 3B though??? Wright and Davis are entrenched there and Bay is not getting taken out in LF.

      He has to play 2B virtually everyday. Give Tejada or Turner against the tough lefty but other than that, Murphy has to play 2B until Havens makes his debut.

      • Mike Koehler

        So you’re telling me that starters never need a break? Have him start a game, have him come in as a pinch hitter and stay in… I really don’t care how you find the 400 at bats, but it’s gotta be possible.

        I don’t think Tejada will be a Reyes-like star, but I think he’s surprising folks and deserves a chance to be the starting second baseman. I feel bad for Turner, who clearly earned some playing time in 2012, but will be hard pressed to find some in New York.

        • Brian Joura

          Why do you want to limit him to 400 ABs?

          But even if that was okay — how many games off do you want to give the guys who you think are clearly better than him? If he gets 20 starts at each of the three infield positions — that’s 240 ABs. How realistic is it for him to get 160 ABs pinch-hitting in the 102 games he doesn’t start?

  • Metsense

    I agree that Murphy is too good an offensive player to sit on the bench. It is also unfair to the defensive challenged Murphy to have to play and learn multiple positions. I’m very much in favor in 2012 giving him one position to master, either 2B or 3B (which means Wright is traded which is a whole other topic). Then after a full season revaluate just how much of a defensive liabilty he is. He fails defensively then find him AB’s at multiple positions but at least give him a fighting chance in 2012. If he succeeds the Mets may have something special. So pertaining to your topic, I play Murphy over Tejada, Turner, Valdespin and Havens. What I would really prefer is a “good and fair” trade of either Murphy or Wright if one even exists. Alderson has let other teams know Murphy is available and also that no one is untouchable.

  • Bus

    I think the high watermark the Mets should hope to reach for 2B at some point in 2012 is Reese Havens. I’m not sure I’d rather see Valdespin there, though. I like Murph a lot and have since he came up, but I don’t think he has much of a future as a Mets starter, with 1B and 3B blocked for the forseeable future. I can see him being traded to Tampa for Niemann and possibly a pitching prospect if Sandy can get it out of them.

  • Steve S.

    I see Murphy as similar to Jeff Kent at the same age. Play him at 2B, instruct him, and keep him there.
    Murphy had an OPS+ of 125 at age 26; Kent had one of 111, playing for the Mets in 1994.

  • rich sullivan

    There are two reasons I would have to respectfully disagree:
    1) defensively he’s just not a major league 2nd baseman. I love the guy, I want him in the lineup, but if Jose comes back (and I think he will) the team is much better off (as a team, not micro statistics) with Tejada at 2nd
    2) for Murphy’s own career, you can’t play him at 2nd; he is potentially one more knee injury away from ending his playing career. He’s had to major knee injuries in a span of 50 plays at second (purely guessing). if you keep playing him at 2nd trying to get more of his bat, there is a great chance you’ll get none of his bat.

  • VLO

    I truly think Murphy’s defense at 2nd base is better than Wright’s defense at 3rd. It is unfair that Murph is not given a full shot while Wright gets a free ride. Mets fans should criticize Wright before criticizing Murph.

  • cactus

    insanity. he’s proven he doesn’t have the instincts for the position. he should never see 2B in professional baseball again.

  • AcePPO

    I don’t think he should be the starting second baseman. I think he should be the starting THIRD baseman… or he should be traded. Either he or Wright should be dealt. The Mets have depth at Corner IF and nowhere else. Ike isn’t going anywhere; Murph or Wright should.

  • AJ

    “And while his defense may not be Gold Glove caliber, he does not figure to be Boswell-esque, either.”

    I prefer the more stately sounding “Boswellian”

    And, by the way, let us not forget, Ken Boswell in 1970 led all NL second baseman with a .996 fielding percentage.

    • Brian Joura

      Orwellian – Boswellian — OK, I’ll give you that one.

      But in 1969 Boswell finished 30th among 2B in fielding percentage and in 1971 he finished 34th. And we should recall that there were only 24 teams in MLB back then.

  • Tim Peter

    Another good piece, Brian. And, without replaying our discussion from the summer, I have no issue with Murphy as the starting second baseman. His bat is great, either in the field or as trade bait for some other team. The downside is that, as an unrestricted free agent entering next year, he may shop that bat to the highest bidder. I could easily see him moving to someone like the Red Sox to back up Youkilis (who’s a free agent after 2012) and there are plenty of other teams who could use a good bat and decent infield glove at a reasonable price.

    As for @VLO’s comment about Wright, I’m not sure I disagree with the sentiment, except to say that Wright is a better hitter and plays a position where defense isn’t as critical as middle infield. Murphy’s best long-term value (to himself) is likely as a corner infielder, where his defense is less of a problem. With Wright and Davis’ power advantage, I’m not sure the Mets give him that opportunity.

    Great post as always. Keep up the good work.

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