Daniel Murphy has started to command more attention from fantasy owners. He amassed 600 plate appearances for the first time last year and has really locked down the everyday role at second base. And over the last three seasons, he has hit .302/.344/.425 for the New York Mets — only Robinson Cano has a higher batting average among qualified second basemen over that time frame.
Despite that fact, according to Zach Sanders’ End of Season Rankings, Murphy was only the 18th-ranked second baseman in standard fantasy leagues last season. This is largely due to his lack of power and (somewhat) stolen bases. To put his lack of power into context, he only hit six home runs in both 2011 and 2012. Last season, he ranked 20th among qualified second basemen. Only Jemile Weeks and Jamey Carroll hit fewer home runs.
Murphy hasn’t always lacked power, though. He had double-digit home run totals in 2007 and 2008 in the minors, and he also launched 12 home runs during his first full season in the majors in 2009. The potential for double-digit homers seems to be present.
Could this be the season in which everything comes together and he hits for both power and average? After all, Mets’ manager Terry Collins believes Murphy is “capable of hitting .300 with 15 homers a year” and his .167 ISO through his first 23 games is the highest of his career.
To consistently hit double-digit home runs, the 28-year-old second baseman will have to focus on hitting the baseball in the air more often. He only had a 24.9% fly ball percentage last season, and the result was the lowest power output of his career. In 2009, his fly ball percentage was 41.3% — and not surprisingly, he enjoyed more power.
Murphy has hit more fly balls this year once again. Consequently, his power production has risen.
That’s obviously a positive sign that his overall power numbers could increase. Steamer sees Murphy ending the year with 10 home runs in their updated projections. It’s only four more home runs than last year, but that still would have moved him to 16th instead of 20th in total home runs among second basemen.
On a more subjective note, I’m not confident that he’ll hit double-digit home runs this season because it seems that Murphy made a conscious decision in recent years to sacrifice power and fly balls for a higher batting average. Something in the article mentioned above also stuck out:
Collins said he was not worried about Murphy trying too hard to hit the ball out of the park. He said Murphy was too disciplined and too cognizant of his batting average.
The last portion of that blurb struck a chord with me. If forced to guess, I don’t believe his increase in FB% will last too long because it could eventually impact his batting average — much like it did in 2009 when he hit .266. If he’s “too cognizant of his batting average,” as noted by Collins, I’m skeptical that he’d be willing to potentially sacrifice batting average points for home runs.
Fantasy owners, however, hope he does make the switch and hits more fly balls. The increased power production from Murphy would be welcome, especially if he were able to maintain the .300 batting average along the way. It just doesn’t seem overly likely based on his historical trends. In that case, he will remain a middling second base option in most leagues and a solid SS/2B option in those leagues that utilize the extra middle infield roster spot. It would just be nice if he were more than that because it seems as if the potential exists.
J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).