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The Future of Daniel Murphy

Mike SteffanosThursday, September 24, 2009
By Mike Steffanos

Whether you like Daniel Murphy, as I do, or not, his 2009 season has inarguably been a disappointment. The Post's Joel Sherman went as far as identifying Murphy as "one of the key faces of the Mets' failure in 2009", but that strikes me as just hyperbole.

In my last post I pointed out that the Mets had an astonishing 23.5 million dollars invested in 3 reliever this season. A hallmark of the Minaya era has been to throw a lot of the Wilpon's surviving fortune at problems, and I thought a LF platoon of Murphy and Tatis had a reasonable shot of plugging that hole at an economical cost.

It didn't work, of course, but if the Mets hadn't suffered so many injuries it was a situation that could have been repaired in-season. Murphy was hardly a key face of the Mets' failure, he was just a kid who struggled in his sophomore season.

The big question, really, is what role -- if any -- Murphy has going forward. Certainly most teams would look for more power from their first baseman than Murphy would seem to likely to provide going forward.

However, Murphy has provided some hope in this regard since the All Star Break. After posting a .248/.314/.364 batting line during the first half with 11 doubles, one triple and 5 HR in 242 AB, Murphy has upped his second half production to .285/.313/.490 while slugging 25 doubles, 3 triples and 6 HR in 239 AB.

While the above numbers show some solid improvement, there is one that I find to be a concern. Despite a 37 point jump in Batting Average and a big 126 point improvement in his Slugging Percentage, Murphy's On Base Percentage has actually dropped a point in the second half.

Murphy's walk total has dropped precipitously since July, and that frankly concerns me despite the other improvement. Murphy's month-by-month walk totals are below:

Month     PA         BB         BB/PA    

It is certainly welcome that Murphy hit .292 in August and .301 so far in September. You have to love the 27 extra base hits in those 2 months. Even so, the decline in walks is stark and somewhat troublesome. To put Murphy's four walks in August and September into perspective, they are less than half of the number (9) that Jeff Francoeur amassed in that same time frame.

A good part of the impression that Murphy made on all of us last year and the first month of this one was the patient approach and willingness to work a pitcher. According to the Hardball Times he averaged 4.3 pitches per plate appearance in 2008, but that has dropped to 3.8 this year. Monthly numbers are not available, but I'm willing to bet that he's looking at a lot fewer pitches these last couple of months.

I do understand that there was a need for him to learn to be more aggressive, particularly on inside pitches; however, employing an approach that is even less patient than Francoeur's would hardly seem a blueprint for continued success.

I like to keep in mind that this kid is only 24 years old and still has time to figure it out. Still, I think this sharp decline in walks bears watching going forward.

Time will tell whether Murphy can incorporate the approach that has provided much more extra base power with some of the patience that seems to have gone by the wayside. Murphy is never going to be a 35 HR hitter, so it would seem to me getting on base will be an important factor in his future value as an offensive player.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

Comments (6)

Good to see that someone else noticed Murphy's OBP problem. Even early in the year when he was taking more pitches, he didn't walk as much as you'd expect. Now he's taking fewer pitches and walking even less. He has to improve on this.

You can get the monthly totals, I was looking at them the other day. If you are looking at the MLB.com stats page of a player, in this case Murph, and click on the splits link it will show you monthly totals. If you look at next stats you can see plate appearances and number of pitches seen. In May, August and September he has been around 3.5-3.6, whereas the other months are around 4-4.2. Although this is a good observation, that May was his high for walks while being his low for pitches seen kind of puts a wrench in your logic. Also, May was when his troubles started, but in June and July his pitches per plate appearance (p/pa) was around his career norm. I think the reason we saw Murph as battling in at-bats last year and at the beginning was because he was over-matched but still able to make contact enough to foul off pitches and work counts. At the end of this year, though, when his p/pa has decreased, his strikeouts have increased. So instead of fouling some pitches off and seeing another couple pitches (which adds up) and possibly drawing a walk, Murph is striking out and going back to the dugout. Moving forward, Murphy's bat may be better suited for 2B (where I want him in 2011) but it wouldn't be too bad at 1B. He hits lots of gappers (which could turn into homers with muscle), so if the Mets design this team better, the doubles are better than homers. What I mean by this is if you have speed and high contact bats (as we kind of do already) then the double keeps the rally going by keeping people on the bases and in doing so, keeps the pitcher sweating and lengthens the inning. Think about it, a pitcher gives up a 3-run homer but then has the bases empty-a fresh start and often limits the rest of the damage. Whereas the double scores one with runners at 2nd and 3rd, or scores both and you got a runner at 2nd. This is as far as our current team can get because important at-bats go to the backups playing LF, SS and Schneider. Putting someone like Holliday in left, and getting a healthy Jose back won't make this the top offense in the league. But doing that and then improving starting pitching (a lot) and adding a lefty to the bullpen, while focusing intensely on fundamentals and individual defense and decisions, then we can be a top team. Even just doing the second part with what we got could bring us to that level we as fans want to see.

Murph is 24, and yes he has had a rough season, but I am inclined to believe that his numbers will get better all around. Patience, as we all know, is something you learn and we know Murph is still learning. He's still raw and his work ethic is good from all reports. It is possible that he has been less patient at the plate because of the notion that he, as a firstbasman, needs to develop more power. Or it could be as B. P. mentioned above, first he was overmatched, now possibly be too aggressive. I like him as a player and see that he can make the transition to a good, possibly great player, if he continues to grow. There are few guys that come right out the box and mash, or become consistant .360 hitters. Even Tony Gwynn had some early struggles before becoming a consistent .300+ hitter. I see Murph with the potential of becoming a steady guy at the plate, similar to Mark Grace or John Olerud 20hr's/80-100rbi's with 40 doubles or so. I see him being able to utilize the entire field to maximize his atbats when he becomes more confident with situational hitting. His defense will improve once he is set at "one position", and his confidence will grow as he learns defensive positioning and situational defensive play. For the life of me, if the Mets truly see this guy as a firstbaseman, why not have one of the best defensive and above average hitters your organization has ever been able to put on the field, tutor him. He's right in the booth most nights, yes I am talking about Keith Hernandez! Keith may not be able to make him into a clone so to speak, but surely can help him improve in the field, and give him some great advice on working the count and getting into good hitting situations. I like Muprh, but I am already hearing folks pumping up Ike Davis to jump over him. I would like to see Daniel be able to relax and do what he can to to improve his game and ignore the naysayers and become a solid major leaguer. If Ike shows he's the man, then so be it, better for the organization. Just for now, can they work on developing some home grown talent before they ship him off to another team and he goes on to have a successful 20year career for someone else. Go Mets 2010!

Brian -- Thanks for the info. My point is more on the walks than on number of pitches. Monthly pitch counts are a relatively small sample. Moreover, I'm most concerned with August and September when the walks disappeared.

I think what concerns me most is how often Murphy is swinging at pitches he can't handle early in the count. While he needed to be more aggressive on inside pitches, what will make or break him as a hitter is learning to get his pitch and not swing at a ball in on his hands when it's still early in the count.

I agree with you that his bat is more ideally suited for 2B, but I don't think he has the athleticism for the position. He would have to provide offense at a level much higher than the average 2B to make up for that.
LJ -- I still like Murphy and think he could be a pretty good ML hitter. I do think it will be interesting to see what his approach looks like early next year.

How come you guys ALWAYS pick on Murph? Why don't you pick on the real stinker on the team - St. David Wright or Carlos 'booboo on my knee' Beltran? Or olala Reyes? If Murph walked 100 times you'd complain that he is too selective. Maybe other teams know the Mets SUCK and are very careful to the very few players that we do have. I am a BIG Murphy fan because he acts like he actually gives a hoot and tries REALLY more than the bums on the DL do.

I sincerely hope Omar trades him to a city that will really appreciate him more than you New York a-holes do!

Frank -- My definition of an "a-hole" is someone who overreacts to something without bothering to even read it. I think the only one that fits that definition is YOU. Neither the post or any of the comments were anti-Murphy. Unlike you we're just looking realistically at a player we all like. Grow up, man.

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