A Breakout Season For Daniel Murphy

MLB: New York Mets at Philadelphia Phillies

Earlier in the offseason, there were whispers of Daniel Murphy possibly being moved, which made me think about Murphy’s value, and if it really  is at its peak. If his value is at its peak, should we move him, or should we sign Murphy to an extension and make him part of our future playoff runs?  Let’s breakdown some of Murphy’s numbers, and talk about his intangibles, before we decide on his value.

There have been rumors this offseason that the Mets brass would look to trade Murphy after his “breakout” season.  Looking at Murphy’s numbers, I’m not sure 2013 was even his best season, let alone his breakout season.

There are a couple of reasons why Murphy’s numbers were so good in ’08.  The Mets still called Shea Stadium home, which was a much better park for hitters than Citi, and he platooned in a LF/PH role with RH Nick Evans.  He had a total of 10 Abs vs LHP that season.

The following season Murphy batted in the middle of the lineup against both LH and RH pitching as the Mets roster was decimated with injuries. Pretty tough spot for a young player in his 1st full season.  He still ended up with a .741 OPS and played decent defense after he was moved from LF to 1B.

With a pre valley fever Ike Davis poised to make his debut, the Mets moved Murphy to 2B in 2010, and sent him to AAA to get some reps at the position before being recalled.  As luck, or should I say “Mets luck”, would have it, Murphy tore his ACL 11 games into the season.  He came back strong in 2011, and looked like he might win a future batting title, hitting .320/.362/.448 before “Mets luck” struck yet again.  In July, while turning a double play against the Braves, Murphy suffered yet another knee injury that ended his season for the 2nd year in a row.  Ouch.  I’ll never forget Murphy hopping on one leg toward right center field, in obvious, excruciating, pain, before he finally landed on the on outfield grass.

After knee operations in consecutive seasons, Murphy played a full season at 2B in 2012, and was definitely sub-par defensively, but hit .291/.332/.406 with 40 doubles.  That’s a pretty good season considering he had switched positions from LF to 1B to 2B previously, and still found time to work in a couple of knee surgeries.

Last season Murphy disappointed at times, frustrated at times, and really impressed at times.  According to defensive metrics, he improved his defense at 2B from 2012 to 2013, and while his OBP went from .332 to .319, his SLG% went from .403 to .415, as he set a career high in HRs with 13, and cracked 55 XBH.  The surprising part of Murphy’s season was the SBs.  He swiped 23 bags while getting thrown out a mere 3 times, including 22 straight from early June through the end of the season.  A streak that is still alive.  That’s pretty impressive.  In fact, Murphy is 33 of 38, or 87%, on attempted steals in the last two seasons.  I think his knees are fully healed.

Here’s the thing we forget about Murphy.  He’s been with the Mets for what seems like an eternity, but he’s only 28.  He turns 29 on April 1st, just as the regular season begins. Murphy missed a full season in 2010, a good chunk of 2011, and he was also tasked with learning to play a different position for 3 consecutive seasons.  At 29, and missing significant developmental time, it’s certainly possible that Murphy’s breakout season hasn’t happened yet.  It’s also arguable that Murphy’s 2013 season was better than it actually looks on paper, since David Wright missed most of August and September.  Why is that significant?  When Wright was activated from the DL on September 20th, Murphy hit .359 (14-39) from September 20th through the end of the season with DW5 in the lineup.  With Wright being on the DL for more than a month, Murphy wasn’t getting as many pitches to drive.  He was only walked intentionally twice the entire year, but both times were during Wright’s DL stint.

Another thing to consider if you dig a little deeper into Murphy’s 2013 numbers is that he hit .302/.339/.440 when batting from the #2 slot in the lineup.  Collins tinkered with the lineup quite a bit earlier in the year, and it seemed to really mess with his numbers when he hit lower in the order.

Murphy also played a career high 160 games, with a nearly 700 ABs.  He hit .292/.331/.459 with 12 of his 13 long balls against RHP.  His .790 OPS vs RHP trailed only David Wright (.836), and Lucas Duda (.831).  Seeing that he played far more in 2013 than in seasons past, and fared far better against RHP, it stands to reason he could’ve used an extra day or two of rest vs. a LH starter, as evidenced by his .304 batting average in games after an off day.  Murphy would probably be more effective in the games that he did play with an additional day off per month.  That would still put him at 154 games played.  He had 0-4’s against Hamels in April, Mike Minor in May and June, and Cliff Lee in July & August.  That seems like a pretty good time to give him a day off.

Murphy also put up a 3.0 fWAR last season, which was good for 3rd in the NL among all 2B.  Of the two that finished ahead of Murphy, one (Matt Carpenter) is moving to 3B, and the other Chase Utley is entering his age 35 season, and missed significant playing time in 4 consecutive seasons. Utley will most certainly extend that to 5, given his age.  It is arguable that Murphy will have the highest WAR for his position in the entire National League in 2014.

We also must consider Murphy’s intangibles.  Murphy is a leader.  David Wright is the best player on the team, and a tireless worker that leads by example, but the vocal leader of the New York Mets is, unquestionably, Daniel Murphy.  He also has a tremendous work ethic, and, by all accounts, is a great teammate, and clubhouse presence.  Murphy also provides versatility, as he can play both corner IF positions and 2B.  He can play LF in a pinch, but something would have to go horribly wrong for Murphy to be in the OF…….again.

If Murphy can take at a small step forward defensively, and gets a couple of extra days off against a tough LHP, considering Murphy is entering his prime years with Wright and Granderson hitting behind him, we may be looking at the best 2B in the NL in 2014.  It’s not far fetched to say that Murphy could take a step forward offensively:

.300/.350/.450  100-R  200-H  40-2B  5-3B 15-HR 25-SB.

He can put up those numbers with an additional 12 hits, 8 runs, 2 doubles, 1 triple, 2 HRs, & 2 SB.  That’s really just 3 or 4 good games.

Murphy’s value could increase as a player, but decrease in trade value, as he will have only one year left until he hits free agency after this coming season. He will earn about $6mill as an Arb-eligible, and with an average season for Murphy in 2014, he will earn at least $8.5-$9mil for 2015 as he will be eligible for arbitration one last time, next offseason, before he hits the market.  The Mets should sign Murphy to a 4year/$40mil extension and lock him up for his age 30-33 seasons, and what would be his first two years of free agency.  He would still have tremendous trade value at age 31 with a reasonable contract if they stall out in the rebuilding process and move him at that point.  Who’s knows?  He might just be the best 2B in the NL by that time.

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