On Opening Day, Daniel Murphy will be the starting first baseman for the New York Mets. His 2009 numbers (.266, 12 HR, 63 RBI) suggest that his production is subpar for a corner infielder. However, I say the Mets should stick with Murphy at first base. Call me crazy ("YOU'RE CRAZY!"), but I think the Mets will end up pleasantly surprised with a full season of Murphy at first.
Daniel Murphy will turn 25 on April 1. That's two years younger than the typical age a player enters his prime. In addition to his team-leading 12 HR last season, Murphy contributed 38 doubles. That was only six short of Bernard Gilkey's franchise-record 44 doubles (set in 1996). However, Gilkey hit his 44 doubles in 656 plate appearances (571 at-bats), whereas Murphy's 38 doubles were achieved in 556 plate appearance (508 at-bats). Falling six doubles short of the single-season franchise record with 100 fewer plate appearances than the current record holder bodes well for Murphy.
Murphy could easily get 40 doubles this season, especially with a clear-cut position. Last year, Murphy started in left field before shifting over to first base due to his shoddy play and Carlos Delgado's ACME hip. Stability will help Murphy both on the field and at the plate, and I wouldn't be surprised if he approaches the Mets' all-time single-season record for doubles this year.
Need further proof that stability begets success? In the first half of the season, Murphy bounced around from the outfield to the infield. He had to forget about his outfield follies and become comfortable at first base. Once it became clear to him that he was going to be the everyday first baseman for the remainder of the 2009 season, Murphy's bat took off.
Let's compare Murphy's numbers over the first four months of the season to his numbers over the final two months.
April - July: 97 games, .247, 17 doubles, 1 triple, 6 HR, 35 RBI.
Aug - Sept/Oct: 58 games, .291, 21 doubles, 3 triples, 6 HR, 28 RBI.
Murphy's 30 extra-base hits over the final two months of the season bode well for his development. A full season at first base could produce 40 doubles and 20 HR. Considering that Murphy's power is still developing, that 40 double/20 HR projection might actually be on the low side.
When John Olerud left the Mets following the 1999 season, the Mets played musical chairs with the first base position for the next six seasons. From 2000-2005, the Mets employed various veterans and youngsters at first base, none of whom ever made the position theirs. From Todd Zeile to Mo Vaughn to Jason Phillips to Mike Piazza to Doug Mientkiewicz, no player could hold the spot for more than two seasons and none of them played up to the team's expectations. It wasn't until Carlos Delgado was traded to the Mets before the 2006 season that a player took hold of the position and didn't give it up.
Now Daniel Murphy is expected to take over at first base. The Mets tried to find a successor to John Olerud, the last player to play at least three seasons at the position, but failed miserably and the team suffered. Other than Jason Phillips, the Mets tried to stick a 30-something year old player with limited mobility at first base. We all know how those decisions turned out. They can't make that same mistake again with Daniel Murphy.
In Murphy, the Mets have a young player who will not suffer the aches and pains that a Mo Vaughn, Mike Piazza or Doug Mientkiewicz would suffer. Murphy worked with Keith Hernandez during the off-season to improve his mobility and range at first base. He's clearly looking to improve defensively and hold on to the position now that the Mets have entrusted him with it.
Daniel Murphy is a gamer. He will come to the park day after day, looking to improve all facets of his game. Here the Mets have a soon-to-be 25-year-old who showed steady improvement both defensively and offensively as the season went along. When everyone else succumbed to the injury of the week, Murphy elevated his game instead of giving up, which would have been easy to do once the team fell out of contention.
Why wouldn't the team give him every opportunity to establish himself as a major league first baseman? History has shown that injury-prone veterans aren't always the best fit for the position. With Murphy, the Mets have a young player who doesn't get hurt (knock on wood) and hasn't reached his full potential yet. The final two months of the 2009 season showed that his potential might be greater than most people are willing to believe.
Don't kick Daniel Murphy to the curb just yet. He may end up rewarding you in ways you never expected him to.