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Why the New York Mets' Daniel Murphy Should Be an All-Star in 2014

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Why the New York Mets' Daniel Murphy Should Be an All-Star in 2014
Associated Press
Daniel Murphy is one of the best offensive second basemen in the National League and deserves a first career All-Star appearance.

The New York Mets quietly have one of the best second basemen in the National League in Daniel Murphy. Murphy’s performance this season merits serious consideration for his first career All-Star appearance.

Despite a modest slump right now of two hits in his last 18 at-bats, Murphy still has an impressive .298/.346/.419 line with 16 extra-base hits and 29 runs. 

When many batters go on a power surge, their contact rate and batting average often suffer. That has not been the case for Murphy, who has slugged the ball this month without sacrificing his batting average.

In April, Murphy hit .304 in 102 at-bats, but he only had a .353 slugging percentage thanks to just five doubles and no home runs.

So far this month, Murphy has crushed the ball en route to a .292/.354/.494 line, including a 10-game hitting streak. He already boasts seven doubles, one triple and three home runs in 89 at-bats. By comparison, Mike Trout has one less extra-base hit than Murphy this month. 

Murphy has improved his approach at the plate immensely over his career.

Per this post by Hall of Fame columnist Peter Gammons, Murphy led the majors in opposite field hits last season. In fact, Murphy has been baseball’s best at opposite field hits for the last two seasons:

Murphy's spray chart makes it even more clear how well he has done in hitting the ball to all fields:

http://www.fangraphs.com/spraycharts.aspx?playerid=4316&position=1B/2B&type=battedball
As Murphy's 2014 spray chart portrays, he has a natural ability to hit the ball to both fields, which makes it even harder for pitchers to get him out.

Granted, opposite field hits is not the only statistic to show a player is hitting at an elite level. However, this statistic does show that Murphy has become a smart hitter, able to hit the ball where it is pitched and not become one-dimensional.

Throughout his career, Murphy has played anywhere from left field to first base to now second base. Murphy has finally found a home at second, and each year he becomes smoother and more confident.

Over time, Murphy’s defense has gone from a liability to one of the better parts of his game.

Murphy’s range factor, a metric that calculates the number of defensive plays per nine innings, is currently seventh in the National League. Considering Murphy is also fourth in the NL in total chances and first in double plays, he has been a pleasant surprise on defense.

This season, Murphy has made a good case for being the second-best second baseman in the NL, behind the Philadelphia Phillies’ Chase Utley. Utley is currently unstoppable with a .333/.389/.556 line, 20 doubles, three triples, four home runs, 24 RBI and 25 runs.

After Utley, though, Murphy’s production is comparable to any of the other top second basemen in the league.

Offensive Rankings Among NL 2B
AVG OBP SLG OPS
Chase Utley 1st 1st 1st 1st
Daniel Murphy 2nd 2nd 3rd 3rd
Brandon Phillips (2013 NL Starting 2B) 4th 6th 6th 6th

ESPN.com

Murphy's OPS ranks behind Utley and Neil Walker of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Walker already has 10 home runs, but his slugging percentage is only 30 points higher than Murphy’s due to a disappointing .257 average.

Walker is also much less of a base-stealing threat than Murphy. Although he is not the fastest runner, Murphy is an extremely smart baserunner. Murphy’s nine stolen bases are currently second among NL second basemen and four ahead of the next-best player.

Furthermore, Murphy recently ended a historic streak of 26 straight stolen bases without getting caught. With only average speed, that streak is a testament to his baserunning intelligence.

As if these offensive numbers aren’t already formidable, Murphy is also a superb hitter in clutch situations, as this chart portrays:

NL 2B Stats (Rank) with Runners in Scoring Position (min. 25 PA)
AVG OBP SLG OPS
Chase Utley .311 (2nd) .411 (3rd) .467 (3rd) .877 (3rd)
Daniel Murphy .297 (3rd) .364 (5th) .569 (1st) .931 (1st)
Brandon Phillips .244 (8th) .280 (11th) .400 (7th) .680 (10th)

ESPN.com

The biggest surprise of the graphic is Murphy's slugging percentage. 

All-Star David Wright usually hits after Murphy in the lineup. Thus, pitchers are forced to go after Murphy with runners on base lest they wish to test Wright in a clutch situation.

Murphy knows this, too.

He is not afraid to be aggressive with runners in scoring position because he knows pitchers will not want to fall behind in the count. Not surprisingly, Murphy averages just 3.27 pitches per plate appearance with runners in scoring position, which puts him near the bottom of the league at his position at 10th.

Murphy has a career .423 slugging percentage, so the inflated numbers with runners in scoring position mean Murphy's aggressive approach is paying off in a big way for the Mets.

In short, with runners in scoring position, Murphy is seeing fewer pitches and producing better results.

Contrary to this approach, the Mets and GM Sandy Alderson have long preached plate discipline in the organization’s offensive approach.

While Murphy has struggled with plate discipline his entire career, never recording more than 38 walks in a season, his plate discipline in 2014 has never been better.

Wright, the face of the franchise, is seen as one of the smarter and more disciplined hitters in the league. But as the below chart shows, Murphy’s plate discipline has been much better than Wright’s and even comparable to Utley’s career year:

(Note: O-Swing% is the percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone, and O-Contact% is the percentage of times that a batter makes contact when swinging at pitches outside the strike zone.) 

Daniel Murphy Plate Discipline in 2014
BB% K% O-Swing% O-Contact%
Daniel Murphy 7.2% 11.5% 28.1% 79.8%
David Wright 5.1% 22.9% 25.7% 58.2%
Chase Utley 6.3% 12.6% 28.3% 74.1%

fangraphs.com

Murphy is far ahead of Wright this season in plate discipline.

Murphy does swing at a fraction of more pitches outside of the strike zone, but that can be forgiven when his contact rate on those pitches is 20 percent higher than Wright’s.

Meanwhile, Murphy also has strikingly similar metrics to Utley, an early MVP candidate. This suggests Murphy's offensive approach is at the same level as the elite hitters in the league. With his improved approach and favorable metrics, Murphy's offensive output this season should be a career best.

Already, Murphy is on pace to shatter his record of walks in a season (38). Last season, Murphy recorded only 32 walks in 658 at-bats. In less than 200 at-bats this season, he already has 15 walks.

If Murphy has 658 at-bats this season, he is on pace for 52 walks and 196 hits.

Murphy has quietly been sensational this season. At this point, the 29-year-old deserves a long overdue All-Star appearance and should be recognized as one of the top second basemen in the league.

 

Stats via ESPN.com, mlb.com, fangraphs.com

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