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.
“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.