One2Watch4: Daniel Murphy

Those who got excited by Daniel Murphy’s performance at the end of the season for the 2008 Mets had great expectations for 2009. Those have since been replaced by the anticipation for the next well-hyped Mets prospect, Ike Davis, whose Citi Field ETA has been moved up after a great spring.

But Murphy could still be One2Watch4 in 2010. Here’s why:

Let’s presume that the real Daniel Murphy is something between the machine-like hitter that fans saw for 49 games in 2008, and the oft-impatient, left field struggler-turned defensively adventuresome first baseman of 2009. The numbers (.382 BABIP) would tell you he might have been lucky in 2008. The eye test would seem to indicate he’s got the ability to rope line drives and take advantage of the big outfield in Citi Field.

The latter is something Murphy did once the pressure was off at the end of the season, and it probably helped that by that point Murphy’s comfort level at first base had improved. Under less-stressful circumstances, Murphy’s swing returned to 2008 form.

Once Murphy found his swing, he became a doubles-hitting machine. After netting 19 doubles in his first 349 at-bats, he had 19 in his last 159, a pace that if carried over for 500 at-bats, would net 60 doubles.

That total has been unreached since 1936 (Hall of Famers Charlie Gehringer and Joe Medwick). The Mets record for doubles? A mere 44 by Bernard Gilkey in 1996. That would seem to be very much in Murphy’s range if he can produce at a reasonable level. Citi Field’s park factor rating scores high for triples (20 percent more at home than on the road), but not doubles (five percent fewer), but for Murphy that’s okay. Triples for some are likely doubles for someone with Murphy’s average speed.

The other thing to watch: Murphy’s plate patience. His pitches per plate appearance dropped about 10 percent from his rookie year to his sophomore campaign. Pitchers exploited Murphy’s inability to lay off low offspeed pitches (his “chase percentage” of 39 percent was six percent worse than the MLB average).

Murphy went from walking in almost 12 percent of his plate appearances in that small sampling in 2008 to doing so in just seven percent in 2009. Over the course of the season, that’s about 25 potential times on base (and scoring chances) that Murphy and the Mets lost out on.

Lastly, keep an eye on Murphy’s defense, since he talked of working with Keith Hernandez this spring. Baseball Info Solutions charted Murphy with among the best +/- ratings in baseball, which seemed odd. Range isn’t always easy to evaluate though, so it’s certainly possible that Murphy gets to balls well. Another year of data might help make a better evaluation, though new Mets third base/infield coach Chip Hale sounds like he thinks the numbers are legit.

"Just looking at film of him this offseason, I could see how talented he was, and his feet were as good as any middle infielder," Hale said while being interviewed on a Mets spring training telecast on Saturday." When you have a guy with feet like that, you can work with him. He's been unbelievable. To me, he's been as good as you can get at first base. I think people in New York are going to be pleasantly surprised at how well he plays."

Believe this: He’s got room for improvement. Digging deeper, we found that Murphy had 32 defensive “misplays” by their scoring system (BIS charts every play of every game, using a system devised in tandem with Bill James). Only Adam Dunn collected more among first basemen. That won’t be tolerated for much longer with a bat like Davis’s waiting for a turn.