To add insult to injury after Jose Reyes was removed from the game because of tightness in his oft-injured hamstring (He was later put on the 15-Day DL), Daniel Murphy was involved in a play at second base that ended with him tearing his left MCL, and being put on the DL for the remainder of the 2011 season. This is Murphy's second consecutive year with an MCL injury incurred at a play at second base- in June 2010, he sprained his right MCL when he was barreled into by Leonard Davis in a dirty attempt to break up a double play. As for the injury itself, it will not require surgery, and Daniel should be fully recovered in four months. I am worried about lingering effects of the injury well past the four-month recovery time, however. I am concerned that the repercussions of this injury may be felt next season, and perhaps for some amount of time afterwards.
According to Terry Collins, Daniel could be permanently positioned in the outfield in 2012, assuming he heals properly and is able to play next season. "We'll have to see what the makeup of the club is going into the wintertime," he said. "We've got to be open-minded enough to think the outfield may be a spot." Keith Hernandez echoed this during the Mets-Padres telecast on August 8th, saying "Murph is not a second baseman" and that he wants to see Murphy in right field.
As I am sure we all recall, Daniel Murphy wasn't exactly the most graceful outfielder. He spent 27 games/213.2 innings in left field in 2009, very famously made two fielding errors and one throwing error all at critical points in those respective games, all while accruing a -3.2 UZR in that time, and a total -14.2 UZR/150. Totalzone wasn't kind to him either, giving him a -2 runs above average in left. When he was first moved to first base (a position he excelled at), Daniel expressed relief. According to then-coach Jerry Manuel, "[Murphy] just lit up, had a big smile. I talked with Razor about it, and he said, ‘Oh, yeah, he's like a kid with a new toy'". In typical Jerry fashion, he then proceeded to semi-throw Murphy under the bus, adding, "I'm scared to death. If he can't catch it out there, how's he going to catch it in here?" Murphy proceeded to allay most fears by being a fairly proficient defensive first baseman. In the 101 games/ 849.1 innings he played there, he accrued a 5.8 UZR in that time, and a total of 8.7 UZR/150. Totalzone also said he was a good defensive first baseman, giving him a +3 runs above average at first.
In 2010, Ike Davis made the position his with a very solid rookie year, leaving Murphy a man without a position. Danny endeavored to learn yet another position, this time second base. For a few weeks, he became more acclimated at the position in AAA-Buffalo before the aforementioned dirty slide ended his season. He rehabbed the rest of the year, and came to Spring Training with a mission: make the MLB team. He accomplished this goal, though he initially started the season on the bench. The inability of Rule-5 Draftee Brad Emaus to play at an acceptable Major League level eventually caused his demise, and second base opened up for Murphy and fellow infielder Justin Turner, who split time there until Jose Costanza's slide.
On the slide, Terry Collins had this to say: "It's something that reinforces the fact that these guys, as great athletes as they are, you just can't go out there and play some position you're unfamiliar with. I'll talk to Dan about it, but the position his leg was in on that play- I've played a lot of second base, it never was in that position. He's got to understand where he needs to be, where his feet need to be." Like others, Collins isn't assigning blame the blame on Murphy, per se, but he's saying that Murphy's positioning caused the injury. While this is true to a degree, that his positioning caused the injury- if he were nowhere near the bad, he wouldn't have been injured- I think Terry, and others, are not taking into account the entire play.
(Thank you Senor Stem, for the screenshot)
Jose Costanza was on first base, and was in the process of stealing second base when he and Murphy's leg collided. Murphy came running over to cover the bag, and Ronny Paulino got rid of the ball to throw the runner out. The throw was slightly up and to Murphy's right. Generally speaking as best I've gathered (I even consulted BayonneMetsFan, the only one who knows how to play baseball, anywhere!), the most proper way to field a steal attempt is to come over to the bag, plant one's knee either to the side or behind the bag, depending on the angle and time the fielder has, and tag the base/runner. Murphy came running to his right and began planting his leg, but had to reach to his right to catch the ball. From this point, there are two possible scenarios: He either plants his leg all the way down and reaches for the ball, and leaves open a possibility that he is unable to field it because his momentum has been planted and the throw slightly wide, or he leaves his leg up for a second or two longer, giving his body enough extra movement to catch the ball, and then tag the runner. He elected to do the second, and we all know what happened as a result.
Was this a result of Murphy not knowing how to field second base, or being a bad second baseman? Here's an assortment of various second basemen in the American and National Leagues, and ‘improper' positions they've been in at second base when catching throws from the catcher on stolen base attempts: Brandon Phillips, Dan Uggla, Chase Utley, Dustin Pedroia, Cliff Pennington, and Michael Young
But, all of that is somewhat besides the point. It's been a fallacy among WFAN callers, Twitter, and MetsBlog commenters, among other places, that Murphy is a bad defensive second baseman. That manager Terry Collins is buying into this, however, is disconcerting. The defensive metrics say the opposite. In the 168.1 innings/24 games the Irish Hammer has spent at second base, he's accrued 1.8 UZR, and a total of 13.1 UZR/150. Is that a small sample size? Absolutely. What can we surmise from that data, however? That, in the time he has spent at second base, he's been a sufficient second baseman. That, if he played an entire season at the position playing as he has been, he'd be a very good defensive second baseman.
Shifting Murphy to right field- because, Jason Bay is the incumbent in left, and is very likely not going anywhere- is not eliminating his fairly potent bat from the line-up, if it happens in 2012, so why be worried? Because it blocks Lucas Duda and/or Fernando Martinez from the position, two players who may be more suited to the position because of their own baseball make-ups and who might be more important to the team's future than Murphy. So far, Duda's .262/.329/.436 slash line is a little underwhelming for a right fielder, but he's still a young rookie who had an ISO of .295 in AAA-Buffalo, and an ISO of .214 in his cup of coffee last season. According to research done by Eno Sarris at Fangraphs, power is tied into his batting average, and if he can eek that up a little bit, Duda could theoretically hit .275/.340/.480 to end the season, a slash-line that is quite sufficient for his corner outfield position. Duda has limited experience playing first base, Ike Davis is the incumbent there, who (hopefully) will be fully healed and healthy for the 2012 season. Based on his .314/.389/.610. slash line and his .424 wOBA in AAA, it's fairly clear that he has successfully conquered the Minor Leagues, and that he has nothing else to learn there. Duda either starts in right field, or sits on the bench. The oft-injured Fernando Martinez also is blocked from graduating to the MLB if his final performance for the 2011 season warrants it, if Danny Murphy is penciled in to start in right. Him being blocked is less of an issue than Duda, for various reasons, but his reckoning is coming in these next few years. Fernando Martinez is going to have to demonstrate that he can stay healthy enough and produce decently enough to play on an MLB team.
If the Irish Hammer is penciled in right field for 2012, that also leaves open the question of who plays second base. The most likely candidate to man the position fulltime, right now, would be Justin Turner. Turner is not a horrible choice, having accrued 1.3 WAR as I write this, but would represent an offensive downgrade for the team. As mentioned above, if he is manning second base fulltime, Daniel Murphy is manning right field. If Murph is in right field, it means Duda is on the bench. If Murpy was at second base, that would mean that Duda would be in right, and Turner would be on the bench. Duda is the much more potent bat, and having him on the field, as opposed to Turner, would be an offensive boon to the team.
All in all, there's plenty of time between now and Opening Day 2012. Daniel Murphy could decide to quit baseball because of this most recent injury, rending all of this speculation moot. Sandy Alderson might pull off some kind of amazing, masterful trade that makes Ian Kinsler a Met, making him the incumbent second baseman for 2012. But, as things stand right now, the optimum situation in an ideal world would be Daniel Murphy starting at second base during Opening Day 2012. During the off-season, I hope all involved parties sit down, sort everything out, and come to this conclusion. With our new front office, for the first time in a long time, I have faith that they will.