Pros and Cons of Dan Murphy at Number Two

It’s official: Daniel Murphy will be the #2 hitter in the Mets’ lineup, according to manager Jerry Manuel. Furthermore, Luis Castillo will bat eighth.

Should we break out the Champagne now, or wait for October?

In all seriousness, Manuel did in fact anoint Murphy as his on-deck guy to start every game — only weeks after announcing that Murphy would NOT be platooning with Fernando Tatis, nor anyone else.

Per Manuel:

“I think the evolution of Murphy, that might be his best spot,” Manuel said. “Somewhere in the top. That type of guy, the way he swings the bat and puts the ball in play, you’d like to see him get as many shots as you could.”

Is this the best fit for Murphy, and the rest of the Mets’ personnel? On the one hand, it’s good to have a high OBP guy in the #2 spot, for obvious reasons — to set the table for the big boppers. On the other hand, will Murphy have a high OBP? Yes, he’s been tearing it up this spring, and posted a .397 OBP in his brief debut last year. But neither his 149 MLB plate appearances in 2008 nor his ability against out-of-shape AA pitchers are guarantees that he’ll continue to get on base 40% of the time. It’s true, he has shown patience and the ability to go deep into counts. But he’s taken pitches more to set up his own at-bat, rather than to give Jose Reyes a chance to steal. Will he take pitches down the middle so Jose can take second base? Should he?

Another question: can Daniel Murphy sacrifice bunt? I don’t believe I’ve seen him square around yet. Of course, the statheads will tell us that doesn’t matter, because the bunt is such a low-percentage play. OK, fine, but can he hit-and-run? Again, I don’t know, I haven’t seen him do it enough. In addition, he’s been more of an opposite-field hitter than a pull hitter, which means when he dumps singles into left, Jose Reyes likely will have to stop at second.

Before I condemn this announcement, I do have to admit there are many reasons it makes sense. The best reason is that by putting Luis Castillo in the eight hole, you have, in essence, a second leadoff guy at the bottom of the order. With the pitcher batting behind him, Castillo will likely draw more walks than at the #2 spot. If Castillo is on first, he’ll soon be on second, thanks either to him swiping the bag or by the pitcher bunting him over. Better yet, Castillo steals second and is bunted to third by the pitcher. In either case, Jose Reyes — who happens to be a strong hitter with runners on base — can be presented many RBI opportunities. In contrast, it’s doubtful that Brian Schneider (who likely would be #8 if Castillo were #2) would get on base and score as many runs as Castillo.

Oh, and there we have the other issue with this lineup plan: Schneider would most likely be batting seventh. Let’s get something out of the way: I love Brian Schneider the catcher. Brian Schneider the hitter? Not so much. Offensively, he’s average to below average for an MLB catcher in this day and age. He’s a typical #8 hitter, meaning, you want him to come to bat as few times as possible, because there are seven players who are better. Putting him #7 means he needs to do a little better than he did last year — and I’m not sure that’s possible.

Ah, but there’s another glaring observation: if Schneider is #8, that means Murphy is likely #7, Church #6, and Delgado #5. See a pattern? Four straight lefthanded hitters, making the Mets vulnerable to the LOOGY. Therein lies another good reason to put Murphy #2 and Castillo #8 — to cut that vulnerability down by at least one hitter. That is a huge deal, particularly since Fernando Tatis and Ramon Castro could be the only two RH hitters coming off the bench.

Everything depends on Murphy continuing to hit like he did in his first 30 games in MLB, and not like his last 20. Otherwise, that lineup could change quickly.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. isuzudude March 23, 2009 at 8:43 am
    *deep breath*

    Ok, I’ll start out by saying that Murphy will likely be a good #2 hitter. And yes, his presence higher up in the order allows the Mets to be more versatile down in the lineup.

    However, I think this decision, if permanent, makes the Mets weaker on so many levels. How so?
    1. Luis Castillo is not cut out to be a #8 hitter. The idea of Castillo being able to draw more walks and be advanced to 2nd base with ease is terrific, but it’s also completely haphazard. What happens when there are runners on base and 2 outs? Castillo either draws a walk and let’s the pitcher get an RBI chance, or breaks character and becomes overly aggressive at the plate in an attempt to drive the runners home. We saw this scenario so many times last year and it turned up craps more times than not. I realize pitchers will be inclined to pitch around any 8th place hitter with 2 outs and runners on, but they may be more inclined to tackle Schneider or Castro and their .250-.260 average in the 8th spot than Castillo and his .280-something average. Yet that .250-.260 average is still better than the pitcher. Also, here’s a reminder: albeit a small sample size, Castillo is a career .214 8th place hitter. Another peice of evidence showing that Castillo is uncomfortable hitting that low in the order.
    2. Castillo has torn it up this spring, relatively speaking. Hitting .324 with an incredible .490 OBP. Walked 12 times compared to just 5 Ks. He leads the team with 13 runs scored. And his reward for such hard work to get him back on track this offseason? Sorry, dude, you’re taking a back seat to a rookie with 149 plate appearances. That just don’t seem right.
    3. Castillo can do so much more in the 2 spot than Murphy. Murphy is hailed for his excellent plate discipline and keen eye, but if there’s anyone with a keener eye on the team it’s Castillo. Castillo is also faster than Murphy, allowing him to steal more bases at the top of the order. Castillo has more experience taking pitches to allow a runner to steal a base, more experience hitting to the right side to move a runner on 2nd over, more experience sac bunting – all things a prototypical #2 hitter should do. I’m not saying Murphy can’t do these things, it’s just that Castillo will do them better.
    4. Murphy’s talents can be capitolized almost anywhere in the order. If Murphy is indeed the .300+ hitting machine many are predicting, then what’s wrong with hitting him 6th or 7th? Moises Alou had a great eye at the plate and hit in upwards of .350 with the Mets, but he was never a #2 hitter. What’s the difference?
    5. It’s not like Murphy will never hit #2. Remember, this is Luis Castillo we’re talking about. He’s going to need at least 2 days off per week, and he’s going to land on the DL at some point. Use those opportunities to bat Murphy 2nd. But while Castillo is in the lineup, Castillo should be hitting 2nd.
    6. I don’t buy into the Mets being vulnerable vs. LOOGYs if Murphy doesn’t hit #2. Remember, Delgado (who will likely cleanup with Beltran 5th) hit .267 vs lefties last year, Church .264, while Jerry insists Murphy can hit lefties as well as righties. So even if it’s a Delgado-Church-Murphy-Schneider bottom of the lineup, the Mets should be able to hold their own against LOOGYs.

    I fear that both Murphy and Castillo will start out the 2009 season slow in their new positions in the lineup, thus prompting Jerry to move them around in the order in a never-ending attempt to break them out of their slumps. If there’s one thing we’ve harped on over the years it’s that the lineup needs consistency, and yet right out of the gate Jerry is setting the team up for a lineup merry-go-round. Count my vote as one (of the few) opposed to the idea of Murphy #2 and Castillo #8.

  2. Micalpalyn March 23, 2009 at 10:22 am
    Agreed with dude’s conclusion. I dont think the Murphy law will be effective. I think Manuel will tinker alot with his line up…..plus didn’t he just say Castillo would leadoff? I think Castillo could leadoff some, hit 2nd, 7th and 8th by time all is said and done. Joe, I also agree Murph will hit all over this line-up.
  3. joe March 23, 2009 at 10:45 am
    If Daniel Murphy turns out to be Wade Boggs, then it makes a lot of sense to put him at #2. But I’m just not convinced, and I’m stunned that longtime baseball vets such as Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez keep talking about Murphy like he’s the second coming. The guy is having an incredible spring, for sure, but let’s remember he’s putting up these numbers against mostly AA and AAA pitchers, and pitchers who are not yet throwing at full speed, with their best command, and with all their pitches.

    Jose Castillo, Brett Gardner, Emmanuel Burriss, Jolbert Cabrera, Xavier Paul, Brad Ausmus, Jason Smith, Wladamir Balentien, Chris Shelton, Craig Counsell, Matt Tuiasosopo, and Jeremy Reed are just a few of the other batters hitting .390+ this spring, and I guarantee none of them finish in the top 50 in hitting in 2009. Numbers aside, Daniel Murphy looks like a guy who takes a lot of pitches, has average bat speed, below-average power for a corner outfielder, average baserunning speed, and average to below-average fielding skills (though he’s improving). In addition to his lack of specialness when it comes to bat speed and power, he pulls off the ball a bit and is susceptible to the fastball inside. Looking only at his skillset, I think he’s going to have a hard time hitting over .280 over the course of a 162-game season, and I’m not sure he’s going to walk as many times as people think, once the league starts exposing his weaknesses.

    I wonder if part of the reason Manuel wants him in the #2 spot is because he *should* get more fastballs with Reyes on base, and therefore Murphy won’t have to worry as much about breaking pitches. It’s easier to hit if you can key on a fastball most of the time.

  4. isuzudude March 24, 2009 at 8:15 am
    I think the infatuation over Murphy, by both the media and fans, is being caused by their desperation to see the Mets finally hone a home-grown offensive talent. “But ID, what about Reyes and Wright?” Yes, Reyes and Wright are home-grown, but they broke into the bigs in 2003 and 2004, respectively, which, believe it or not, was six and five years ago! Art Howe was the manager. Dan Duquette was the GM. Citi Field was just a glimmer in the Wilpons’ eyes. Mike Piazza was still hitting cleanup. In baseball terms, we’re talking ages ago. And since Reyes and Wright, the Mets have virtually been devoid of any offensive prospects delivering at the ML level. Need a few reminders?

    Jason Phillips, Prentice Redman, Jeff Duncan, Danny Garcia, Victor Diaz, Craig Brazell, Jeff Keppinger, Esix Snead, Anderson Hernandez, Mike Jacobs, Lastings Milledge, Carlos Gomez. Yeah, a few shiny coins in the roll, but nobody worth getting overly excited about…yet, anyway. Add to the list Fernando Martinez, who it seems like we’ve been waiting since the mid 80s to develop, and you can see why people are getting antsy for the Mets to showcase a young offensive stud. And though Murphy doesn’t really meet that qualification, he’s being rammed down our throats just the same because those associated with the Mets are so desperate for a prospect that delivers. My question is, who will the fans turn on if/when Murphy fails to meet lofty expectations? Murphy himself, or the whackos who insisted Murphy is the second coming of Wade Boggs and who jammed him into the 2nd hole to face both lefties and righties?

  5. joe March 24, 2009 at 10:14 am
    Good points, ‘dude.

    I’m trying hard, and I can’t recall how hyped up Reyes and Wright were back when they were just breaking in. I do remember hearing their names, and being told they were top prospects, but I feel like there wasn’t nearly as much gushing. Though, there was no SNY back then, either. What I remember most is Wright tearing it up in AA in ’04 — he was hitting close to .400 at one point — and the Mets tempering the enthusiasm and sending him to Norfolk for another month while Ty Wigginton anchored 3B. In fact, if I remember correctly, there was at least a little bit of controversy regarding Wigginton vs. Wright, because Wiggy had been doing so well. Yes, it was no secret that Wright was being groomed to be the next big star, but it “felt” much differently when he came up. Here’s a quote I found from Bob Klapisch:

    “The Mets have a realistic belief that Wright can hit about .270 this year — no small achievement, considering Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt batted .196 as a rookie. Eventually, the Mets believe Wright’s gap-power will turn him into the lineup’s best all-around weapon, but they’re a long way from declaring any formal dependence on the kid.”

  6. isuzudude March 28, 2009 at 9:07 am
    Joe, you’ve already discovered this spring training that Dan Warthen frequents MetsToday, as he has finally taken your advice on tinkering with John Maine’s mechanics. Well, now comes word that Jerry Manuel may have reversed course with his stance on Murphy needing to hit “somewhere in the top” of the order. Metsblog has a post up revealing that Jerry told reporters that Friday’s lineup against the Nats – in which Castillo was hitting 2nd and Murphy 7th – very closely resembles the type of lineup that the Mets will be featuring on opening day. And I say HALLELUJAH! Apparently Warthen expressed how insightful the opinion and analysis was on MetsToday to Jerry and prompted the manager to read up on the lineup order and consequently change his mind. More than likely the changes we’ll see in the lineup on opening day will be to have Church in RF batting 6th and Schneider behind the plate batting 8th. Castillo remains the #2 hitter, and who can criticize that decision with Luis’ .480-something OBP this Spring? Also, Murphy remains 7th, where he proved last night he can drive in plenty of runners by going 3 for 4 with 2 RBI. He also proved he can handle LHP, stroking hits against lefties John Lannan and Wil Ledezma. However, I’m not sold on Murphy playing everyday just yet, as his defense in LF last night was abominable, especially going back on balls. It’s great to have his bat in the lineup, but if his defense is costing the Mets a run every other game, then Tatis or even Jeremy Reed should get a look in LF from time to time.

    I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: the Mets are best served by keeping Castillo in the 2-hole and leaving Murphy lower in the lineup. But again, that doesn’t mean Murphy will never hit 2nd, as Castillo will need his days off, and when that happens I expect to see Murphy’s name to be penciled in to that #2 slot almost every time.

  7. joe March 28, 2009 at 12:02 pm
    Wow … I didn’t think Jerry had a computer, either. I wonder if both he and Warthen are using John Maine’s laptop?

    It’s too bad they weren’t paying attention when Manny Ramirez was still available … though, I guess we would have needed Omar Minaya and Jeff Wilpon reading MetsToday. Well, I guess it’s a start.

    Agreed on Castillo in the 2-hole, obviously. The lineup doesn’t have to be set in stone, of course. I would like to see Beltran at #2 when he’s on a hot streak, assuming Delgado hits like he did last year. I’m NOT interested in the possibility of David Wright batting fifth, which was tossed around as a possibility during Friday’s broadcast. It simply makes zero sense to not guarantee your best hitter an at-bat in the first inning. If Wright is in one of his mini-slumps, I can sort of understand, but the notion that he is streaky is extremely overhyped (mostly by Keith Hernandez). Looking back on the last three seasons, Wright is the one guy who stays right around .300 every month. A “down” month for David is .280, but even then his OBP is between .360-.400. (In contrast, Beltran had months of .211, .248, .208, .234, and .344 in the last two seasons.)