Sunday, August 31, 2014

Daniel Murphy Could Win a Batting Title by Default

By not swinging his bat, Daniel Murphy could become the Mets' second batting champion in four seasons. (AP Photo)

Prior to being placed on the disabled list with a strained right calf, Daniel Murphy was having one of the best years of his career at the plate, leading the Mets in several offensive categories, including batting average, hits, runs scored and doubles.  Murphy wasn't just one of the best hitters on his own team, as he also ranked in the league's top ten in all four of those categories.

Although Murphy's .301 batting average wouldn't normally contend for a batting crown or even rank him in the league's top ten, the abundance of quality pitching in the National League has made Murphy an unlikely contender for a batting title.  And as unusual as it may seem, he's become a bigger contender since he got hurt.

Prior to his calf injury, Murphy played in 126 of the Mets' first 131 games before missing Tuesday's affair against the Atlanta Braves.  Two days later, the second baseman was placed on the 15-day disabled list.  On Tuesday, Murphy stood 16 percentage points behind National League batting leader Justin Morneau, who was hitting .317 for the Colorado Rockies.  The next seven players in the batting race were Ben Revere (.311), Andrew McCutchen (.307), Aramis Ramirez (.304), Yasiel Puig (.303), Matt Adams (.303), Jonathan Lucroy (.302) and Josh Harrison (.302).  Those players were all ahead of Daniel Murphy, who ranked ninth in the NL with his .301 batting average.

But since August 26, everyone but Josh Harrison has gone into a mini-slump.  Whereas Harrison has increased his batting average from .302 to .308, a 1-for-11 skid has dropped Morneau to .311, which still leads the very weak-hitting National League.  Similarly, Ben Revere has fallen from .311 to .307, while Andrew McCutchen has dropped two points from .307 to .305.

The other four hitters who were ahead of Daniel Murphy in the batting race have also fallen on hard times, with Ramirez (1-for-his-last-14), Puig (1-for-22), Adams (3-for-25) and Lucroy (3-for-18) all slipping under .300 since Murphy got hurt.

Without playing a game all week, Murphy has gone from ninth in the NL batting race to fifth, trailing only Morneau, Harrison, Revere and McCutchen.  He has also shaved six percentage points off Morneau's lead, as his .301 average is now only ten points behind Morneau's league-leading .311 mark.

Daniel Murphy is eligible to come off the disabled list on Tuesday, September 9.  But his strained right calf may not be healed by then.  Should Murphy be done for the season, perhaps his .301 average might be enough to earn him the National League's batting title.  Murphy's 568 plate appearances are already 66 more than the minimum required to qualify for the crown.  Plus, he's already passed four players who were ahead of him in the race without adding a single at-bat to his totals.  He just needs to pass four more, three of whom are dropping back in the pack.

It would be a strange way to win it, but Daniel Murphy's injury could help him attain an unexpected batting title.  In other words, Murphy's calf strain could end up being his best break.

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