Decisions on Murphy and Martinez
About two weeks ago, we suggested that Dan Murphy and Fernando Martinez might be in competition with each other. At this point, we may have a “winner”, though, before long, both may find themselves in AAA.
Since Murphy has moved to first base, he has drawn rave reviews for his fielding from the most optimistic onlookers, perhaps blinded by their desire to see him succeed. Yes, he’s been remarkably more comfortable and better looking at first base compared to his adventures in the outfield. But watching him with an unbiased, objective eye, it’s clear that Murphy is no Keith Hernandez at first base, and in fact is only mediocre to passable at the position. That doesn’t mean he won’t get better — but can the Mets afford the inevitable mistakes while he learns “on the job”, when he’s hitting below .240?
Which brings us to the crux of the matter: Murphy was anointed the starting leftfielder during the first week of February because he was “a better hitter than Ryan Church”. Most recently, he was shoehorned into first base to “keep his bat in the lineup”. But as has been stated before on this blog, because of his lack of power and only average running speed, Murphy needs to hit at least .300 — if not .320 — to justify hiding his glove on the diamond. But he hasn’t been near .300 since early May, and the scouting reports have caught up with the holes in his swing. Eventually, he may make an adjustment, but, again, will he hit enough to be a first baseman on a team starving for power and that plays in a park built for speed?
More importantly, take one look at Dan Murphy’s face and you can see that confidence has drained from him. He has an expression that seems to ask “why am I failing?” or “do I belong here?”. The brashness and focused intensity that helped him hit last summer is gone — he now looks relieved to take a walk. When he does rap a line drive for a hit, it’s nearly always either off of a pitcher who belongs in AAA, and/or the result of a mistake by a pitcher leaving the ball waist-high over the middle of the plate. There’s nothing wrong with a “mistake hitter” if those mistakes are sent over the fence. But if you are a “mistake” singles hitter, then you better have blazing speed or flash a gold glove at a skill position.
The bottom line is, it’s time to send him to AAA to a) get his confidence back; b) learn to play 1B; and c) continue developing his skills and baseball education in an environment that is more forgiving and less pressured than a pennant race in NYC.
Similarly, it could be time to send Fernando Martinez back to Buffalo. He has proven that he has the raw skills to play MLB one day, and be, at minimum, a solid all-around ballplayer. But that day is not today, and may not be for a while. F-Mart does not appear overmatched, but he’s also merely “keeping up” and not embarrassing himself — neither of which are the same as “productive”. What’s most telling is that when the Mets promoted him, he was in the middle of an on-fire hot streak. From the numbers he was putting up, it appeared he was “in the zone” — kind of like Dan Murphy was ripping apart AA just prior to his callup last July. So it’s possible that the .216 AVG / .310 OBP / .294 SLG is his zenith at this point of his career. Optimists may suggest the opposite — perhaps he can go on a similar tear at this level, this year. I’m not so sure.
What I really like about seeing Fernando Martinez in the lineup every day is the athleticism he adds. But the truth is, there’s someone on the 25-man roster who can offer a very similar skillset, and likely better performance: Jeremy Reed. One day, if the scouts are right, F-Mart will surpass Reed by leaps and bounds, but at this moment in time, I think Reed gives the Mets the same or better defense, the same or better speed, the same or better bat, and better all-around fundamentals — something that Martinez will develop with more time and experience.
What keeps both Murphy and Martinez on the roster, of course, is the dearth of talent below them. The question is, who in the Mets’ minor league system can provide more value than those two youngsters?
A quick look shows that Mike Lamb is stinking it up in AAA, Javier Valentin is hitting a robust .260, and Nick Evans is struggling in AA. Career minor leaguer Jesus Feliciano is hitting .300 for Buffalo, but is the same player as Reed — singles hitter, above-average speed, lefthanded outfielder. Josh Thole is lighting it up in AA, but he’s a catcher, and what the Mets need right now is punch from 1B and LF. As mentioned a few days ago, Wily Mo Pena is getting his bat going, so he’s a possibility. But otherwise, it looks as though at least one of Murphy and Martinez will remain on the roster unless a potent bat is brought in from outside the organization.
There is no doubt that Murphy is a great kid in that he works excessively hard, hustles, and is a student of the game. Continuing to put him at first base and wait for him to hit like he did last August is unfair to everyone.