One of the debates in Mets-land in recent weeks has been who Terry Collins should start in centerfield: Juan Lagares or Eric Young Jr. The argument for Lagares is his tremendous outfield defense, youth, and demonstrated offensive potential. The argument for Young is his speed and ability to play the lead-off position, plus a history of a slightly better On-Base. Personally, I support Lagares, and it appears management does too. This makes sense for a whole host of reasons, as Lagares is simply a better player all around with much more upside, and Young, with his ability to pinch-hit, pinch-run or back-up 2B, is a better fit for the bench anyway.
Nevertheless, starting Lagares raises the question of who should hit lead-off, and I’d like to propose Daniel Murphy for the honor.
I know Murphy doesn’t fit the speedy traditional prototype, but frankly I contend that thinking is outmoded. Wade Boggs was a tremendous lead-off hitter, but he was slow as dirt. The most important characteristic for a lead-off man is not speed, but On-Base Percentage – the ability to avoid making outs. And when we compare our options according to this metric, we see that we’re really not losing anything by putting Murphy at lead-off instead of Young: Young’s 2013 OBP was .318, while Murphy’s was .319. Young’s career OBP is .325, while Murphy’s is .333. Murphy’s also just a much better hitter overall; his slugging is .424 compared to .338 for Young, and he averages 38 doubles and 10 homers per 162 games, compared to 18 and 3 for Young.
Besides, it’s not like Murphy is slow anyway: he stole a respectable 23 bases last year himself. He’s one of the team’s most experienced hitters and one of the Mets I have the most confidence in at the plate between the two, so putting him at the top of the order makes a little more sense.
Of course, most Mets fans are expecting Murphy to go in the two-hole, so this merely opens another question in that spot.
Traditionally, the second spot in the order is filled by a batter who also has a high OBP, is selective at the plate, and who can avoid hitting into double plays. If Murphy slides up to bat leadoff, I’d propose two unconventional possibilities for this position.
The first is Travis d’Arnaud. I know he’s unproven, but frankly the Mets had a lot of success with a catcher as the two hitter with Paul LoDuca a few years back, and if d’Arnaud can emerge as the .300 hitter he’s capable of being he’d be a perfect fit. Perhaps .270 is more realistic, but even that would be tolerable. He has the skill set to do perform the job well, and it’s a risk we can afford to take.
If he doesn’t stick, the fallback two hitter could be….drum roll, please…Lucas Duda. Laugh all you want, but The Big Lebowski sports an impressive .342 career OBP thanks to his propensity to take walks – the highest walk percentage of any Met not named David Wright. Speaking of Wright, putting Duda in the two-hole gives him some protection in the lineup that he hasn’t really had before, which might help maximize his power potential.
Duda is also a left-handed hitter, which is ideal for a two-hitter because if Murphy gets on base, the opposing first baseman has to cover the bag, which leaves a hole on the right side for the pull-hitting Duda to yank ground-balls through. We’d certainly forfeit speed, and I know Duda isn’t even a guarantee to be on the team what with Ike Davis still around, but we’ll need to take some risks if we want to compete this year and this one might just work.
2014 Mets Lineup (option 1): 1. Murphy, 2. d’Arnaud, 3. Wright, 4. Granderson, 5. Young, 6. Duda/Davis, 7. Lagares, 8. Tejada
2014 Mets Lineup (option 2): 1. Murphy, 2. Duda, 3. Wright, 4. Granderson, 5. Young, 6. d’Arnaud, 7. Lagares, 8. Tejada