In 2013, Daniel Murphy defied all expectations by vaunting into the top-five tier of fantasy second basemen, making him one of the best bargains at the keystone sack and a tempting draft target back in March. Unfortunately, he couldn’t quite keep up the good vibes, as Murphy, despite making his first all-star team this year, slipped from No. 4 to No. 9 at the position in both Zach Sanders’ rankings and ESPN’s Player Rater.
Depending on your point of view, that’s either disappointing or merely the result of a limited offensive player regressing to his mean. Regardless, Murphy, who long ago established himself as a legitimate major league hitter, continued his steady ways at the dish:
So what gives? Murphy’s standings slide was the result of a decline in his counting stats, as his home runs, runs, RBIs and stolen bases all dropped. As it’s fair to say that Murphy basically remained the same hitter between the two years, let’s break down those categories one by one, as we try to figure out whether Murphy underwhelmed in 2014, or simply played above his capabilities the year before.
HOME RUNS (13 in 2013, 9 in 2014): Murphy’s modest HR/FB rate stayed level, but his FB% plunged nearly seven percentage points from the 36.3% mark he posted in 2013. The good news is Murphy traded many of those fly balls for line drives; his 28.2 LD% was the third-highest among qualified hitters and suggests that, if anything, he was shortchanged on his .322 BABIP, though a career-high pop-up rate didn’t help. For a prototypical No. 2 hitter such as Murphy, there’s nothing wrong with being a line-drive machine, and the Mets’ decision to once again move in the fences at Citi Field will only help in the home run department. But to hope for even 15 bombs from the second baseman next year — last year’s 13 is his career high — would be overly optimistic, especially as he enters his age-30 season.
RUNS (92 in 2013, 79 in 2014): Considering how mediocre the Mets’ offense was in 2014, perhaps we should be grateful Murphy was able to score even 79 times, which ranked ninth among eligible second basemen in CBS formats. After posting the lowest walk rate of his career in 2013, Murphy returned to the form that has seen him post a career .333 OBP, and did so in what was a lost season for David Wright, the Mets’ No. 3 hitter and the team’s best offensive player. Assuming Wright’s left shoulder is 100 percent next year, Lucas Duda continues his emergence as a middle-of-the-order threat, Travis d’Arnaud avoids the injury bug, Curtis Granderson does something useful and the Mets acquire at least one credible major league hitter this offseason — yeah, that feels like a truckload of ifs, though not all of those scenarios need to come to realization for the Mets to field a stronger lineup — Murphy should remain a decent source of runs.
RBIs (78 in 2013, 57 in 2014): Here we have the most precipitous decline year-to-year, but again, it’s hard to blame Murphy, who increased his OPS with runners in scoring position from .787 last year to .866 in 2014. Logically, one should point fingers at the Mets’ inability to find a decent leadoff hitter, and the team’s .289 wOBA out of the No. 1 slot, the third-worst in baseball, would seem to back up that theory. Thing is, the Mets’ leadoff hitters were even worse the past two years, when Murphy posted better RBI totals, and without an easy explanation for his RBI decline — and the possibility that Juan Lagares, who had a strong finish as the Mets’ leadoff hitter, could yield better results out of the top slot in 2015 — I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect Murphy to return to the top 10 in the stat among keystone sackers next year.
STOLEN BASES (23 in 2013, 13 in 2014): Ah, finally, the primary calling card for which Murphy was such a surprising fantasy commodity last year. As Scott Strandberg pointed out in August, Murphy’s 23 steals in 2013 surpassed his career total at the time, and while a return to the 20-steal plateau was probably too much to hope for, this was the third straight season in which Murphy swiped 10 or more bases. After posting a combined 87% success rate between 2012 and 2013, it’s fair to wonder if Murphy’s 72% rate this year might make him, or the Mets, a bit more gun-shy about giving him the green light, but Murphy has established himself as at least a modest source of steals, or, put another way, a guy who won’t hurt your fantasy team here.
And that’s basically the running theme of the Daniel Murphy fantasy story, a career .290 hitter over more than 3,000 plate appearances who isn’t a burden to owners in any particular category and is a solid contributor across the board. Having averaged 153 games played over the past three seasons, he’s a solid bet to stay on the field, and should the Mets trade him over the offseason to a team with a more competent lineup, it’s possible his value could increase even more.
It was asking a lot for Murphy to replicate his elite output from last year, but on the flip side, it was another solid, top-10 performance from a guy who can be counted on to deliver as advertised, year-in and year-out. The reward might not be breathtaking, but then again, neither will the price tag come draft day, and there’s plenty to appreciate about Murphy’s consistency, especially when it’s accompanied by such established upside.
Karl, a journalist living in Washington, D.C., learned about life's disappointments by following the Mets beginning at a young age. His work has appeared in numerous publications, and he has contributed to the 2014 and 2015 editions of The Hardball Times Annual. Follow/harass him on Twitter @Karl_de_Vries.