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:
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.