Do We All Still Underrate Daniel Murphy?

Yesterday was the trade deadline in the keeper league I’ve been in for over a dozen years. I’m in the midst of a full rebuild, and was spending the day shopping around my spare parts in exchange for draft picks and prospect upgrades. (Without boring you with too many details, each of the 12 teams keeps eight major-league players per year.)

Daniel Murphy is one guy I was openly shopping. Without even really thinking about it, I envisioned him as one of my more valuable spare parts; someone who wasn’t in my long-term plans, but could bring back a nice haul. It was only when I started getting offers for him that I started to really evaluate the way I view him as a fantasy commodity.

Last season, Murphy was the No. 4 fantasy second baseman in standard formats, and the No. 42 overall player. Aren’t those numbers a bit higher than you would have assumed? I know they were for me. Still, one could point out his 23 steals as a fluky outlier and false indicator of future value.

After all, we’re talking about a guy who had 19 steals in 1,742 prior major-league plate appearances, and all of a sudden he exceeds that number in one year as a 28-year-old? It wasn’t unreasonable at all to think we were looking at another case of 2012 Martin Prado. However, Murphy’s 12 steals so far this year indicate that, while he probably won’t steal 23 ever again, ~15 per year can be projected pretty safely.

This season, Murphy is the No. 7-ranked player at the keystone, despite 2014 being a tremendously productive fantasy season for second basemen. Murphy’s overall value is nearly identical to last season (No. 48), but there are as many second basemen in the overall Top 50 this year (7) as there were in 2013 (5) and 2012 (2) combined.

Yet isn’t that, in itself, an indicator that Murphy’s value is decreasing, even as his production stays relatively the same? Second base is an increasingly productive offensive position, as the previous point illustrates, and the deeper a position gets, the less-valuable that position becomes.

Still, I feel like I’m constantly overlooking Murphy, and unfairly so. I ranked him at No. 11 in this month’s rest-of-season tiered second base rankings, and it was almost as an afterthought. “Oh, yeah, Daniel Murphy. Gotta throw him in here somewhere.” I wasn’t exactly in the minority with this ranking though; just a quick look around the internet shows that ESPN’s Tristan Cockcroft has him as the No. 10 2B going forward, the guys at CBS have him anywhere between No. 8 and No. 11, etc.

What makes me — and also most higher-profile analysts — expect Murphy to be less valuable than guys like Chase Utley, Jason Kipnis or even Ian Kinsler rest-of-season? I think there’s two things that work against the general perception of Murphy, the first of which is that he plays for the Mets. There’s not a lot of counting stats to go around when you play on the team with the third-worst on-base plus slugging (.667) in the entire league.

As it turns out, Murphy’s sub-par supporting cast hasn’t seemed to hurt him much; he’s No. 5 among all second basemen in runs scored, and tied for sixth in RBI. This is as good a segue as any into the second reason Murphy is undervalued, and that’s the fact that he doesn’t blow you away in any one category. Among second basemen, he’s tenth in HR, eighth in steals and third among qualifiers in batting average — although both Josh Harrison and Scooter Gennett would slot in ahead of him if they had enough at-bats.

Let’s take a moment to discuss how valuable five-category contributors really are in fantasy. That may seem like a candidate for obvious statement of the year, but does it seem so obvious when I point out that Michael Brantley is the No. 2 fantasy outfielder this season? His .324 AVG is good for fourth in all of baseball, but his 17 homers and 13 steals don’t exactly jump off the page.

That brings us back to Murphy. To touch on my specific circumstance once more, it still doesn’t seem like he’s the type of guy a rebuilding franchise should use to occupy one of eight keeper slots. But why? He’s only 29 years old, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t still be just as productive a couple years from now, when I’m back in contention. Plus, he’s about as durable as they come at any position, having played at least 155 games in three of the last four seasons, and on track to get close to that number again this year.

The deadline in my league came and went, and Murphy remains on my roster. The Mets’ offense really can’t get any worse than it’s been in the last two seasons, and those are two seasons in which Murphy has still excelled. If he continues to produce at this same level — and the team around him improves even a little bit (or if he’s traded) — Murphy should generate plenty of value for years to come.

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Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.

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I definitely think he’s underrated. He doesn’t have any one stat that pops out at you but on any night he can fill the box score. That said, I just dealt him and a pick in my keeper league for Braun.