2011 Evaluation: Dan Murphy
What to do with Dan Murphy? That’s the burning question in Metsville.
After posting a .320 AVG, .360 OBP, and .809 OPS, Dan Murphy has convinced many that he can hit. But can he field? The jury is out, as there are differences in opinion. Some point to his sparkling UZR as evidence of his ability to play first base. Others insist that his sample size at the position is not large enough to rely on UZR, and still others who have no idea what UZR is saw an awkward first baseman who often looked confused and made frequent mental lapses that overshadowed any positive aspects of his defense.
And then there is the matter of Murphy at second base, a position he seems unable to play without hurting himself. For the second year in a row, Murphy sustained a serious injury due to improper footwork around the bag. We’ve already seen that the outfield is a similarly dangerous place for Murphy to be; although he never hurt himself out there, we saw enough to think he might. He’s probably safest at his “natural” position of third base, but his limited MLB action there confirmed his reputation as a butcher in the minors.
Part of Murphy’s defensive deficiencies are physical — he has slow, uncoordinated feet, inaccurate arm, and an overall awkwardness in body movement; he looks like what might happen if Hunter Pence tried to play the infield. Further, he suffers from both mental lapses and the simple fact that he sometimes doesn’t know what to do — which is completely understandable considering that he’s been moved all over the diamond at the big league level with little to no minor league training at any position other than 3B. I can’t entirely blame Murphy for his defensive struggles, because the Mets have colossally failed him in their inability to identify his skill set during his developmental stage. After failing as a third baseman, he should have been moved either to 1B or the outfield (not both) and left there for 2+ years to learn how to play at least one position adequately. With enough experience and confidence at one position, Murphy could have then focused more on developing his hitting.
Instead, we have the Mets forcing a square peg into a round hole — moving him back to second base. Sure, he projects to provide exciting, above-average offensive production at the position. But how long can he remain there before yet another runner takes out a limb joint? And if he can stay on the field, how many outs will be lost due to a combination of poor instincts, inexperience, and inaccurate throws? Putting Dan Murphy at second base works out nicely on paper, such as on a fantasy baseball team, but how will it play out in reality?
There’s one more mitigating factor: can Dan Murphy hit .320 again? If he doesn’t, his below-average defense will be unacceptable. In his only full big-league season — 2010 — Murphy hit .266 with a .313 OBP and .741 OPS. So which Murphy is the real one?
Many people like to combine his .320 AVG of 2011 with his 16 HR output of 2010 and suggest that is what Murphy is capable of producing in 2012. I’m not so sure. If he can, and play as well at second base as the most optimistic Murphy backers would like to believe, then the Mets will have a young Chase Utley. And maybe that’s the gamble Sandy Alderson and co. are banking on. If so, I say, why not take a chance and see what happens? Such a development would be a boon for the Mets, and give them an extremely valuable asset to either build around or use as a trading chip. What do the Mets have to lose by trying to make it happen? It’s not like they’re going anywhere in 2012.
As for what I think will happen, I’m not expecting much from Murphy, with the hope of being pleasantly surprised. I see him turning into, at best, a below-average second baseman. Offensively, I’m expecting something in between the two extremes he’s displayed; so call it a .280 AVG, .340 OBP, maybe 10 HR. In the past I considered Murphy’s offensive ceiling to be somewhere between Mike Hargrove and Mark Grace — with a floor of Matt Franco — and I’m sticking with that. Though now, with the Mets forcing the idea of bad-fielding versatility upon him, Murphy is beginning to project as a righthanded hitting Mark DeRosa.
I get the feeling we’re going to see Murphy play at both infield corners again, either because of injuries and/or trades involving Ike Davis and/or David Wright. I also wouldn’t be floored to see Murphy venturing back to an outfield corner on occasion. Finally, I can see Murphy being dealt away at the first sign of his showing fielding adequacy combined with offensive production.
What do you think? Is Dan Murphy the next Chase Utley? If he is, will the Mets keep him or deal him? Post your notes in the comments.