2011 Postmortem: Second Base

2011 Postmortem: A position-by-position look back at the season with some preliminary thoughts on 2012. Plate appearances listed for each player represents overall plate appearances, not just those logged at the position in review. The stat wOBA is weighted on-base average -- read more about it here. It's like OPS but better, and on the same scale as on-base percentage. Cliff's Notes version: a wOBA below .300 is poor, .330 is about average, .400 is elite. fWAR is FanGraphs wins above replacement -- read more about it here.

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The dismissal of Luis Castillo became a formality once Sandy Alderson took over as GM. Omar's quintessential signing ended up costing the Mets $6 million in 2011 for no production but hardly anyone objected to the decision to release him in March. So with Castillo gone, a three-way spring training battle (sorry, Luis Hernandez) for the starting second base job emerged between Rule 5 draft pick Brad Emaus, blue collar Daniel Murphy and red-headed former Oriole Justin Turner.

No one distinguished himself, although Emaus finished with the best spring OPS of the trio. With Murphy likely to make the team, regardless of position, and Turner still carrying minor league options, Emaus's status as Rule 5'er helped his chances. If he didn't make big league roster, he had to be offered back to his original organization, the Toronto Blue Jays. So he made the team and Turner started the season at Triple-A.

The Emaus experiment didn't go as well as hoped. He slumped through the first couple weeks of the season, failing to notch an extra base hit. The front office cut bait after 42 plate appearances and he was sent back to the Blue Jays. Was it premature? Maybe, but the presence of Turner meant Emaus had a limited window to impress. Call the handling of the situation a case of good process, poor result (for Emaus, at least).

Murphy played second base every day for about a month until Ike Davis's season-ending injury in early May, after which Murph manned first base for much of the summer. His defensive expectations at second were low and it's safe to say he exceeded them. This isn't to imply a Gold Glove is in his future; I'd rate his defense slightly below average. And definitively assessing his performance in what amounts to about 18 full games at the position is impossible. What isn't impossible is acknowledging his strong showing at the plate. He was the Mets' third or fourth best hitter in 2011, albeit without much in the walks and power departments. A reduction in strikeouts and excess of line drives helped Murph to an impressive .320 batting average.

Murphy played his last game of the season on August 7th. He pinch hit then manned second base, only to be felled almost instantly with a season-ending MCL injury after a Jose Constanza slide into the bag. That's two years in a row that Murphy's season was cut short by injury sustained at second base. The cleanliness of each play can be debated but my 50/50 takeaway from the injuries is:

a) Sh*t happens
b) Moving from easy to hard along the defensive spectrum at the big league level is a challenge

Even half a season at second base would have provided a nice idea of Murphy's chances of sticking there. The uncertainty that has surrounded his place on the diamond since 2008 remains.

Turner made a great first impression, posting a .834 OPS through his first 107 plate appearances after his April call-up. Moreover, he drove in runs at a notable clip thanks to some clutch hitting. Turner's remarkable performance in the clutch remained through the end of the season (.940 OPS in high leverage spots) but his overall performance did not (.690 OPS). It's important to remember that his clutchness in 2011 should be appreciated but not used for future projection. Chances are, his high leverage stats will regress towards his all-situations stats, given enough plate appearances. The difference between Turner's terrific early season numbers and below average final line is a nice illustration here. The more plate appearances he accumulated, the closer his statistics approached his likely true talent level. The same should be expected of his clutch stats. Turner was below average defensively at second base but seemed much more comfortable at third base.

In the name of brevity, Willie Harris and Scott Hairston will be covered in one of the outfield postmortems. Ruben Tejada and Chin-lung Hu will receive the treatment in the shortstop postmortem.

The future at second base is murky. Next season's second sacker will likely be someone already in the organization. Contenders for the job include Turner, Murphy, Tejada, Reese Havens and maybe Jordany Valdespin. Havens remains a personal favorite and if he can be reinforced with adamantium his on-base skills and power would play nicely. A healthy Murphy at second base with a ~.340 wOBA would also be a welcome sight, both for the boost to the offense and the increase in his trade value. Given the various options, and doubt about Jose Reyes's return, betting on the 2012 Opening Day second baseman right now would be a fool's play.

Desired 2012 starting second baseman: Reese Havens

Projected 2012 starting second baseman: Daniel Murphy

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