The Exhilarating, Exasperating Enigma of Daniel Murphy
Mets fans seem to have a special place in their hearts for Daniel Murphy.
The sentiment is understandable. The veteran second baseman is affable, plays hard, almost never misses a game, is one of the best hitters the Mets’ farm system has produced in the last 20 years, and is one of only two position players the Mets have left who took the field for them at Shea Stadium.
What is debatable is just how much value the 29-year-old Florida native actually has for the Mets.
It’s a complex equation. One must balance the left-handed hitter’s remarkably consistent ability to hit line drives—just wind Daniel Murphy up every year and you know he will hit .290—and his surprising ability to steal bases (44 steals in 53 attempts since 2012) against the drawbacks: His unreliable and unconventional defensive play at second base and his puzzling decisions on the basepaths, which led teammate David Wright earlier this year to remark that Murphy “sometimes runs the bases like he thinks he’s invisible.”
In both positive and negative respects, Daniel Murphy almost always finds himself in the middle of the action, the center of bizarre and/or pivotal occurrences. In Friday night’s 6-5 victory over the Texas Rangers, with two out in the ninth inning, it looked like the Rangers were about to tie the game when shortstop Ruben Tejada lost track of a windblown popup. Tejada frantically retraced his steps to try to catch up to the errant pop fly, only to find Murphy arriving to his rescue from out of nowhere to secure the final out, racing over from his second base position to make the catch where the shortstop would usually stand.
In sabermetric terms, Murphy’s WAR (wins above replacement) value is 2.0, which is slightly above average, balancing his positive offensive value—especially for a second baseman—with his negative defensive metrics. Does Murphy add more to the Mets’ otherwise underperforming offense than he detracts from their defense? This is also a vital question, given the number of young pitchers the Mets have and will have on their staff going forward, pitchers whose ability to throw strikes and keep pitch counts down would be helped greatly by a strong defense behind them.
Murphy is a career .291 batter who only once in his career has batted below .286 (he hit .266 in 2009, when he led the team with 12 home runs). On a team with a frustrating tendency to be too patient and unaggressive at the plate—taking the franchise’s organizational philosophy of “hunting strikes” to an extreme—Murphy is the team’s best two-strike hitter, a .312 career hitter with runners in scoring position, and virtually as good a hitter against same-side left-handed pitching as he is against righties.
None of these are qualities to be regarded lightly, something to be remembered the next time Murph botches the turn on a double play pivot or gets thrown out at third base to end an inning.