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?

2012 Projection

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.

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. NormE December 29, 2011 at 10:03 am
    We know he can’t field and we would like to believe that he will be a positive as a hitter. But, his main value to the cash-starved Mets is that he is still cheap. That’s why I believe that the Mets will not move him (or Duda or Davis) unless they are getting low-salary players back.

    It’s more likely that Wright will be traded when Alderson has the right deal at the right time. Should Santana come back healthy he, too, will be traded. Getting a deal for the other high-salary player, Jason Bay, may be impossible.

    So, once Wright is gone, Murphy will move back to his “natural” position (3B) and we will have to sort thru the logjam at 2B.

  2. Joe December 29, 2011 at 11:28 am
    I personally don’t know “he can’t field,” since I saw him play first base and do so good enough for a good hitter. In the NL, defensive lapses are made up for when you hit, up to a point. That doesn’t include putting him in all eight positions, whatever is free at the moment.

    It is just shoddy to keep bouncing the guy around and a corner infield spot appears to me to be where he is most comfortable. The problem is that there might be a couple months at least where such a spot isn’t open.

    Forcing him to play 2nd base and pop him back like he is some sort of utility player, which he is not, is shoddy. And, when he is hurt (in one way or the other, hopefully not physically) in the process, and when people blame him, I will grimace, since it is not really his fault that he is being forced to do something beyond his skill set.

    If he actually can manage 2nd — who knows — he has to be allowed to stick it out long term to truly be able to play it fairly well. As compared to Turner as an emergency SS, an everyday player has to have some comfort level that takes time. But, that isn’t really ideal, is it? I feel an urge to sing “What do we do with a problem like David Murphy,” Sound of Music style.

  3. Dan B December 29, 2011 at 2:20 pm
    The problem with Murphy in a corner infield spot is lack of power. With a weak hitting catcher, outfield, and middle infield, that is a problem. Since we are aiming for 2015, trade him now while value is high.
  4. Mike Kelm December 29, 2011 at 2:26 pm
    Actually I see Daniel Murphy as very attractive trade bait to the American League. If we are going to go the dreaded “R” route (We never, ever say rebuilding) than you could do a lot worse at DH/utility than a .280/10-15 HR guy who can actually play the field for interleague. Probably not to a top-tier team, but a team without as much depth who is depending on either a young DH (like the Mariners) or hoping for one last good year out of someone (see Johnny Damon & the Rays).

    Is he going to get you a Zach Wheeler type- definitely not. But if you get a couple of quality relievers/fourth outfielder/backup catcher types for him, it might be worth it.

  5. Paul R December 31, 2011 at 8:58 am
    It’s not so much that Murphy can’t field. Despite looking like a butcher at times at first and third, he also turned in some stellar plays, which leads me to believe that with consistent playing time, you’ll see consistent defense from him.

    No, the larger issue is that the position where he is most vulnerable — second base — happens to be the position where his bat is most valuable.

    If Wright is traded, Murph can be a decent third baseman. But left to his own devices at second base, he’ll get killed.