Monday, September 2, 2013

The Good, The Bad and The Murphy

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Daniel Murphy made his major league debut on August 2, 2008, which makes him the second-longest tenured position player on the Mets behind David Wright.  Whereas David Wright is beloved by just about the entire Mets fan base, those same fans aren't as kind to Daniel Murphy.

Many fans (myself included) love the guy, and would have no problem with him becoming part of the team's main core for years to come.  Others, however, would love to see Murphy used as a trade chip, mentioning his lack of defensive skill and inconsistency at the plate as reasons for why they would not miss him in New York.

What's so good and what's so bad about Daniel Murphy that makes him so divisive to fans?  Allow me to answer that question for you.

The Good

Daniel Murphy can hit.  A lot.  His .289 career batting average is eighth all-time in Mets history behind only John Olerud (.315), David Wright (.301), Keith Hernandez (.297), Mike Piazza (.296), Edgardo Alfonzo (.292), Jose Reyes (.292) and Dave Magadan (.292).  Other than Magadan, the other six players are Mets legends.  Although Murphy is only 28, his name is right up there with those legends in the batting average category.

Daniel Murphy is a doubles machine.  His 146 doubles are the 15th-highest total in franchise history.  Murphy needs only 24 doubles to crack the top ten, something that should happen by early next season.  His 40 doubles in 2012 are the franchise-record for a left-handed hitter and his 137 doubles over his last four seasons are the third-most over a four-season span in club annals.  Only David Wright (166 doubles from 2005-08) and Carlos Beltran (145 doubles from 2005-08) had more.  Should Murphy leg out nine more doubles before the end of the season, he would pass Beltran, thereby producing the second-highest total of doubles of any Met in a four-season span.

Daniel Murphy is currently fifth in the National League in hits with 157, just six behind league leader Matt Carpenter.  The only Mets to lead the league in hits are Lance Johnson (227 hits in 1996) and Jose Reyes (204 hits in 2008).  Those are also the only 200-hit campaigns in team history.  Murphy needs 43 hits over the Mets' last 27 games to become the third Met to reach 200 hits, a number that seems unreachable but not impossible, especially when you consider that Murphy has 11 hits in his last four games.

Daniel Murphy has scored 80 runs this season, good for eighth-best in the NL.  With twenty more runs, Murphy would become only the 12th Met to reach triple digits in runs scored in a single season.  Other Mets who reached that mark include David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Mike Piazza, Edgardo Alfonzo, John Olerud, Howard Johnson, Darryl Strawberry and Tommie Agee - all of whom are considered franchise legends.

Finally, Daniel Murphy is leading all major league second basemen in runs scored and is the National League leader in stolen bases at the position with 18.  Among all major league second basemen, only Dustin Pedroia has more hits, singles and doubles than Murphy.  And among all National League second basemen, only Brandon Phillips has more RBI than Murphy.

Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Bad

For as great a hitter as Daniel Murphy is, he is not adept at reaching base in ways that do not add to his hit total.  Murphy has never walked more than 38 times in a season and is currently the owner of a .313 on-base percentage, which would match the lowest of his career.  To put that into perspective, Ike Davis (he of the .205 batting average) has a higher OBP (.326) than Murphy.

Daniel Murphy has never been much of a power threat.  Although he led the team in homers in 2009, he did it by default, as he was the one position player who didn't succumb to injury.  His 12 homers in '09 still remain his career high.  Murphy's ten homers this season are lower than the output of sluggers Jedd Gyorko (16 HR), Yuniesky Betancourt (13 HR), Nick Franklin (12 HR) and Howie Kendrick (11 HR).  For the record, all four players listed above play second base for their respective teams.  And also for the record, the term "sluggers" was used sarcastically to describe their power.

Daniel Murphy has a 1.4 WAR in 2013.  Only once has he posted a WAR higher than 1.6.  By comparison, Ruben Tejada posted a 1.9 WAR in 2011 and a 2.0 WAR in 2012.  And let's not embarrass Murphy by mentioning his defensive WAR in 2013 is -0.9, which is slightly worse than the -0.8 dWAR he posted in 2012.  Oops.  Guess it's too late to save him from that embarrassment.

Speaking of defense, Murphy has committed 14 errors at second base in 2013, which is the second-highest total in the major leagues behind only Chase Utley, who has 15.  In 2012, Murphy made 15 errors at second base, which was also just one behind the league leader, Rickie Weeks, who committed 16 errors at the position.  Although Murphy has yet to lead the league in errors by a second baseman, his combined total of 29 errors over the last two seasons are the most in the majors, one more than the 28 miscues committed by Rangers' second baseman Ian Kinsler.

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

By my count, that's five good points and four bad points, making Murphy just slightly valuable to the Mets.  With Wilmer Flores needing a position to play once David Wright returns from the disabled list, Murphy better check his rear view mirror or else he might be lapped by Flores on the second base depth chart.  Of course, Flores is also very Murphy-esque in that he is supposedly an outstanding hitter (.290 career batting average in the minors) who doesn't draw many walks (career-high 38 walks in 2012) and isn't the best fielder at any position.

Perhaps the Mets are looking to replace Murphy with Flores to save millions of dollars.  After all, Murphy is making $2.925 million this year and is second-year arbitration-eligible in 2014, meaning his salary will likely go up above $3 million and even higher in 2015 (Murphy will qualify for the big free agent bucks in 2016), while Flores can be paid near the major league minimum.  But let's look at Murphy's major league numbers and compare them to Flores' minor league numbers.  Please note that Flores had nearly 600 more at-bats in the minors than Murphy has had in the majors, so Flores' cumulative numbers should be slightly higher than Murphy's.

  • Murphy: .289/.332/.421, 197 XBH, 259 RBI, 275 runs, 37 SB, 140 BB, 299 K in 2,156 AB
  • Flores:  .290/.331/.430, 242 XBH, 404 RBI, 335 runs, 15 SB, 157 BB, 377 K in 2,755 AB

As you can see, offensively, Murphy and Flores are basically THE SAME PLAYER!  Flores is better at driving in runs, but that's because Murphy has been used mostly as a No. 2 hitter with the Mets, while Flores has hit further down in the order where RBI opportunities are more prevalent.  But Murphy is a far better base runner.  In fact, his 18 stolen bases this season are three more than Flores had in his six years in the minors.  In every other category, Murphy and Flores are quite similar, with Flores' edge in extra-base hits, runs scored, walks and strikeouts due to his extra 599 at-bats.

Daniel Murphy has some redeeming qualities.  He also has some negative points.  Because of that, Mets fans will always find something to argue about him.  But fans who want Wilmer Flores to get an everyday opportunity with the Mets might find themselves saying "hey, haven't we seen this before?" if Flores continues the career path he's taken.

The only difference between Daniel Murphy and Wilmer Flores is in the amount of money they're taking out of the Wilpons' piggy bank.  Daniel Murphy is very good at some things.  He's also quite bad at other things.  But his skills aren't that ugly.  And they're also not ugly enough that he should be replaced by the younger, less expensive Wilmer Flores, who might just be the next Daniel Murphy.

It will certainly be interesting to see what the Mets do with Daniel Murphy in the offseason.  The ultimate good/bad player will surely be a hot topic of conversation come winter time.  Then again, he's always been a hot topic for Mets fans regardless of the season.

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