Daniel Murphy To Nationals Best Move for Mets?
I know, I know — if it weren’t for Daniel Murphy turning into Roy Hobbs during that 12-day stretch in October, the Mets probably don’t get the opportunity to lose to the Royals in the 2015 World Series. Heck, it could be argued that Murphy’s hot second half was a major reason the Mets won the NL East. But looking at Murphy’s entire career, rather than a small sample, suggests that the Mets might be better off without him — especially if he’s playing for the only team the Mets need to beat in their division.
We have been discussing the frustrating conundrum of Daniel Murphy here at MetsToday for almost a decade. You may have loved him when he was red-hot at the plate — sheepishly hiding your eyes when he was on the basepaths or in the field — and wanted to strangle him when he was in a 1-for-29 rut. There was never a place to hide him on the field, and it seemed wherever he was placed, he caused chaos and angst — sometimes sooner rather than later (remember the short-lived experiment of Murphy as the starting left fielder? Johan Santana does). Some of you have disagreed with me through the years, but Daniel Murphy — his 2015 postseason heroics notwithstanding — generally provides more harm than good to a team.
There have been statheads who pointed to numbers to prove Murphy’s worth, but I still disagree, not because I don’t believe in advanced stats, but because I believe there can be more to a person’s affect on a game (and a team) than numbers. For example, there is no stat (as far as I know) that washes away Murphy’s contribution to Ruben Tejada‘s broken leg in that catastrophe of a double play attempt (granted, Tejada’s incompetence was just as much at fault, but it’s one glaring example of Murphy’s negative effect on a particular play or a teammate). And I never bought into advanced baserunning stats that somehow portrayed Murphy as an above-average runner; I’m not convinced there’s an accurate way to measure the overall, big-picture impact of running your team out of an inning, or turning a no-out situation into a one-out situation (in which a double play can end the inning). Don’t even get me started on the advanced fielding metrics that once championed Murphy as the top defensive first baseman in the league. Bottom line is that Daniel Murphy rarely hit enough to make up for his defensive, baserunning, and fundamental deficiencies, and often, his presence negatively affected teammates.
Now, the Mets are not only absolved of Murphy’s negative energy, but they will benefit by Murphy’s existence on the squad of their one legitimate threat to the NL East crown. It’s the ultimate addition by subtraction.
Further, how the Mets replaced Murphy amplifies his subtraction (hmm … can a subtraction be amplified?). In Neil Walker, the Mets have someone who is equal to Murphy offensively, bats from both sides, is a better fielder, and, perhaps most importantly, the diametric opposite of Murphy in terms of “baseball intelligence” and fundamentals. Yes, on paper it looks like Walker is not an upgrade defensively, and it’s true he won’t be confused with Brandon Phillips in the field. But what isn’t included in UZR, DRS, or whatever advanced defensive statistic to which you subscribe are the “little things” that can win or lose ballgames, such as being in the right spot for a cutoff, covering first base on a bunt, or making a proper feed to the shortstop to start a double play. Neil Walker isn’t a perfect ballplayer, but he makes up for his inadequacies by doing the right thing at the right time — quite the opposite of what Mets fans experienced with Daniel Murphy most of the time.
Speaking of Phillips, the Nationals’ signing of Murphy underscores their troubled state — which is more good news for the Mets. Daniel Murphy was not the Nats’ first choice at second base, and signing him to a three-year deal looks desperate. Like the Mets, Ben Zobrist was first on Washington’s list, and when he opted for Chicago, it seemed as though it was a blessing in disguise when DC had a deal in place for Brandon Phillips. Yes, blessing in disguise, at least from a financial standpoint. Phillips is due $27M over the next two years, compared to the four-year, $56M deal given to Zobrist. You could argue that Zobrist will outperform Phillips in 2016 and ’17 but I’m not so sure. Going purely by offensive stats, Zobrist has the advantage, but looking at both players overall as second basemen (which is where Zobrist likely would have seen most of his action in DC), I would tend to think the two would be very close. I also am always guarded in projecting veteran players who change leagues for the first time — for many, there has been an adjustment period due (I suppose?) to unfamiliarity with the new league’s pitchers and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Zobrist struggle a bit in his first year in the senior circuit.
But all that is moot, because Phillips chose to stay in Cincinnati, forcing the Nats to make a move they may not have preferred — signing Daniel Murphy. That’s key to why I believe they’re troubled: they HAD TO make a move, and desperate teams make poor decisions. DC already lost Jordan Zimmerman, walked away from Doug Fister and Ian Desmond, traded Yunel Escobar, seem to have cut ties with Denard Span, and similarly appear disinterested in having Matt Thornton, Nate McLouth, and Casey Janssen return. That’s a large piece of the puzzle that was supposed to dominate all of the NL per prognosticators last spring. Prior to signing Murphy, they spent most of the winter rebuilding the bullpen but striking out in all other areas that needed to be addressed. After signing Murphy, they quickly snapped up Stephen Drew to be Murphy’s good-field, no-hit alter ego (another problem with Murphy — having him requires an extra roster spot for a glove man). The Nats still have other position-player needs, and there’s the elephant that won’t leave the room known as Drew Storen / Jonathon Papelbon. After missing on Zobrist and Phillips, it was urgent to get the second base question out of the way so the front office could focus on equally pressing matters.
On the flip side, maybe the Nationals won’t do much more prior to spring training. Perhaps GM Mike Rizzo learned from his mistake last year of assembling a kick-ass roster on paper, only to find out that ownership would refuse to budge on the budget when a rash of injuries and underperformance called for mid-season additions. Maybe Rizzo will go into 2016 as-is, saving his cash and bullets for in-season moves — should they become necessary. Regardless, it appears they’ll have Daniel Murphy causing chaos, and that’s good for the Mets. Just don’t get all bent out of shape when “the Murph” comes up with a clutch hit to beat the Mets. When it occurs — and it will at some point in the 19 games vs. the Nats — take a deep breath and console yourself knowing that over the course of 162 games, Daniel Murphy will help the Nationals lose more, and his absence will help the Mets win more.