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In Defense of Murphy’s Defense

Posted By Howard Megdal On August 2, 2011 @ 9:07 am In Today's Mets headlines | Comments Disabled


Well, the Mets suffered a second consecutive loss under vaguely excruciating circumstances last night. It isn’t easy to immediately follow the restoration of hope a two-out, ninth-inning home run provides with a defeat brought about by bullpen collapse.

But what many people took from last night’s game was yet another mental mistake in the field from Daniel Murphy- this time, a failure to record an out when a baserunner ran halfway from first to second, only to realize that a man already stood on second base. The mistake was particularly noteworthy, since the day before, Murphy had made an identical one on the basepaths. One would think a kind of defensive empathy had resulted.

Look, I’ve argued in this space [2] before (and others! [3]) that the Mets have no real business playing Daniel Murphy anywhere but second base. That case is even stronger now, incidentally. His offense has been strong this year- a 126 OPS+. But that would rank him tied for 12th out of 23 among first basemen who qualify for the batting title this season, making him a below-average option at the position. Among second basemen? He’d be fourth in all of baseball.

And yes, he’d be third in baseball among third basemen. But the reasons not to play Murphy there haven’t changed. For one thing, David Wright. For another, sure they could deal him to a team needing a third baseman, but why do that when the Mets desperately need a second baseman, have no short-term or medium-term answer at the position, and could employ a cost-controlled Murphy there as a top-five offensive option?

And while Murphy clearly makes his share of head-scratching plays, his overall defensive play at second base has been fairly strong, as per defensive metrics. That isn’t an argument that he is definitely an above-average second baseman, defensively. But it certainly isn’t an argument against it. I’d call it: Merits Further Study. Which means, play Murphy at 2B.

Terry Collins made a great point during last night’s press conference: Murphy didn’t play in 2010 due to injury, then has been asked to play three separate positions in 2011. The surest way to make Daniel Murphy a more competent defensive player is to give him reps at one position. And that position should be second base. See how all the separate threads lead to a single conclusion? Me too.

If it were me, Mike Baxter would get the call from Triple-A, so the Mets can see what he can do, and put him in right field. Lucas Duda would play first base, since the Mets have a pretty good idea what he can do in the outfield (not much) and until Jason Bay is traded, his main position is blocked. Daniel Murphy, the first player in this paragraph with a strong chance of being an above-average regular, should play every day at second base. And Justin Turner can return to the bench, where he can play his supersub role well, instead of blocking second base for Murphy, a clearly better hitter.

What I wouldn’t do is keep shifting Murphy around. It obviously isn’t working defensively, and works against the team’s long-term needs and what is best for Murphy. This seems like an oversight on par with previous administrations, which is why it is so shocking to see from Sandy Alderson, who has calibrated nearly everything with total precision. I’d love to know what else is factoring into the organization’s thinking here, and will report back to you once I find out.

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