The Curious Case of Daniel Murphy

Second baseman Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets is truly a Jekyll and Hyde hitter. He is known to fluctuate dramatically from month to month, but with second baseman prospect Wilmer Flores scorching in AAA general manager Sandy Alderson has to decide soon which one is part of the core.

Murphy hit a convincing .317/.345/.471 in May with 10 doubles, two home runs and 12 RBI. Last month, however, he had an underwhelming .227/.274/.291 line with just two doubles, one home run and seven RBI. He is 7 for 34 throughout the first week of July.

Will he get hotter than July and help Mets fans forget about his recent woes? History suggests he will. After a subpar June 2012, he silenced his critics by hitting .360/.380/.528 the following month with 11 doubles.

Murphy’s batting average went up and down like the stock market in 2009, his first full MLB season, and he missed the 2010 season due to injury. He bounced back in 2011 with a .320 average and .362 on-base percentage and did not fall below a .280 average in any individual month of 2011. He fell to injury in early August 2011 in what arguably could have been his best full season in the major leagues.

Murphy is an automatic out one day and then drives in every runner in scoring position the next game. You can feel the frustration through his facial expression when he is out on two or three pitches. When he gets clutch hits he furiously claps his hands and shouts. He wears his heart on his sleeve.

Lately Murphy looks like he is out before he steps into the batter’s box. He often swings at the first pitch and struggles to hit the ball the other way. When he is at his best he sets the table for David Wright and keeps the line moving. Otherwise he has no impact on offense.

At this point last year he only had 3 home runs and did not go yard until June 27. He already has 6 homers this season. However, he is not a power hitter. His strength is hitting singles and doubles, especially with runners in scoring position. Murphy is dangerous when he is in the zone and uses all parts of the field.

He has also made great strides on defense at second base throughout his career. Murphy by no means has a stellar glove and is sometimes awkward when turning a double play. He will commit errors on occasion, some of them quite costly, and botch plays that a strong defender could make. He does not have a natural talent for playing second base but he gives his best effort. Luckily for him Flores has limited range himself and his defense is also a liability. Otherwise Flores might have been on the big league roster already.

Murphy hustles hard, sometimes to overcompensate for his mistakes and he inadvertently hurts the team. If he ends the season hitting around .270 with an OBP barely over .300 it is hard to imagine Alderson will offer him a multi-year contract, or even one more year. Since he lacks power and is questionable on defense his value weighs heavily on his hitting acumen. He lives and dies by his bat.

If he does not finish the season hitting at least .285 with a .330 OBP (assuming he does not get traded), it will be hard to argue that Murphy is the future at second base. Aside from third base, no Mets position is safe. Even if he plays to his full potential this month Alderson still has to decide if he wants such a streaky player on the team.

This town ain’t big enough for Flores and Murphy. One of them has to go.

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