Look, I don’t wish to step on the adulation of a folk hero. And Justin Turner, with his 21 RBI in 99 at-bats, is justifiably the folk hero at the moment for the New York Mets.
But I think that obscures a more interesting longer-term question: what does that mean for the team at second base?
Daniel Murphy, to my mind, is still the best choice the organization has going forward.
Let’s take a look inside Turner’s numbers. He’s currently at a slash line of .337/.384/.467, which is terrific. It’s good for an OPS+ of 138. But he’s doing it with a batting average on balls in play of .380. Not only is that unlikely to continue for anyone, it represents a higher BABIP for Turner than he’s posted at any level since rookie ball.
Meanwhile, Daniel Murphy has settled in as a major league hitter right between his 2008 and 2009 numbers. For the year, he’s at .278/.337/.418, good for an OPS+ of 111. Unlike Turner, he’s done it with a sustainable BABIP of .299, right in line with his .302 career BABIP mark.
And while the conventional wisdom is that Turner has starred at second base while Murphy has erred, the defensive metrics actually like Murphy’s performance at the position a good bit more than Turner’s. This is not to say it is predictive, given the small sample. But it certainly doesn’t provide any evidence that Murphy can’t play second base, and it seems he’d be likelier to improve than regress as he becomes more familiar with the position.
This is all moot right now, and probably will be until Ike Davis returns, since Murphy is the best option on the big league roster to play first base, too. It is worth noting, however, that Lucas Duda has been tearing up Triple-A since returning from his back injury. So if Davis is out for the long-term, bringing up Duda and moving Murphy to second base wouldn’t be a bad idea at all. Turner remains at third until David Wright returns, then becomes a strong utility infielder.
But that shouldn’t be Murphy’s fate. Second basemen who can handle the position and post an OPS+ significantly above average aren’t easy to find. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the team’s recent entries at the position. Murphy deserves a chance to hold the position. Turner’s results are likely fleeting. But the evidence is piling up that Daniel Murphy, Second Baseman is for real.