Daniel Murphy has the distinction of being both overrated and underrated by Mets fans. Some fans regard him as a great player because of his ability to hit for contact. Other fans think considerably less of him because of his inability to draw walks, unremarkable defense, and only moderate power to compensate. Murphy's value lies somewhere in between.
In 2013, Murphy hit .286/.319/.415 (106 wRC+) and finished with 3.0 fWAR. His best skill was once again his ability to generate contact, as he had a 21.3% line drive rate, which fueled his .315 batting average on balls in play. Despite the similarities to his 2012 line (.291/.332/.402, 102 wRC+), Murphy's batting profile changed quite a bit in 2013. His ground ball rate dropped significantly, going from 50.7% in 2012 to 42.4% in 2013. Consequently, the number of fly balls he hit increased dramatically, as his fly ball rate increased from 24.9% to 36.3%. He also walked quite a bit less, drawing just 32 walks in 697 plate appearances compared to 36 walks in 571 plate appearances in 2012.
Daniel Murphy's next contract
Murphy is heading into his second year of arbitration eligibility. What does his 2013 season portend for his 2014 salary?
Murphy's batting line wasn't spectacular by any means, but it looks a lot better when compared to other second baseman. The league average for second baseman was just .257/.316/.376 (91 wRC+). Murphy also showed more power, having a .129 ISO in 2013 compared to the league average rate of .119 for second baseman.
It's not quite that simple for Murphy, though. Unlike previous seasons, Murphy showed a dramatic platoon split in 2013. Against right-handed pitching, Murphy posted a 122 wRC+ (.291/.331/.459) and a 1.01 grounder-to-fly rate. Lefties posed a significantly bigger problem for him than did righties, as he only had a 73 wRC+ (.273/.292/324) against them with a putrid 48-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio and an .051 ISO in 217 plate appearances.
Murphy was also a very streaky hitter. In 2013, Murphy had at least a 115 wRC+ in four of the six months: April (118), May (130), July (115), and September (130). Unfortunately, he posted a wRC+ of 60 in June and 83 in August, dragging his overall season performance down quite a bit. June was particularly brutal in that he had only four extra-base hits in 117 trips to the plate.
Continuing a trend from 2012, Murphy again had a strong tendency to hit the ball the other way. On balls hit to left field, Murphy had a .354 average; to center, his average was .343; to right field, it was just .299. This is primarily because he had was able to hit with much more authority to left and center. Murphy had a 23.6% line drive rate to left with a 49.7% fly ball rate, while having a 21.5% line drive rate and a 34.9% fly ball rate to center. For the most part, hitting the ball to right field posed major problems for Murphy, as he hit 59.8% of his balls to right on the ground and just 18.3% for line drives. Oddly enough, Murphy showed home run power to right, hitting nine of his thirteen homers that way.
(Credit to PITCHf/x Texas Leaguers)
A new wrinkle for Murphy this season was his rapid improvement in baserunning. A poor baserunner throughout his career, Murphy stole 23 bases in 2013 and was only caught three times, and he graded out at 6.4 BsR (base running runs above average). In fact, Murphy took an extra base 61% of the time, the fourth best rate in the majors.
Even with his above average offense and good baserunning, Murphy was still dogged by his defensive maladroitness. Fangraphs' UZR/150 graded Murphy at -4.9 in 1334 innings at second base, while Baseball-Reference.com's Defensive Runs Saved graded him at -13 runs below average.
In 2013, Murphy was once again frustrating to watch, as he showed periods of brilliance with extended stretches of absolutely terrible hitting. However, he provided above average offense at his position, which is critical for a team that only has one well above average hitter, even with the additions of Curtis Granderson and Chris Young.
There has been a lot of talk that the Mets will seek to trade Murphy in order to free up some payroll, as he is projected to make almost $6 million in arbitration in 2014. This makes sense because Murphy isn't irreplaceable and if the Mets can acquire a solid starting pitcher, shortstop, or other long-term piece using Murphy, they should not hesitate to trade him.
However, the idea of trading Murphy becomes much less palatable when team insiders say Eric Young Jr. would likely be his replacement at second base. Young is a solid bench player and a very valuable baserunner, but those talents don't begin to mask his terrific inability to hit major league pitching. In 2013, Young hit just .249/.310/.336, and .251/.318/.329 as a Met. For his career, he's a .258/.325/.338 hitter in 1,273 plate appearances. At age 28, it's probably unreasonable to expect that he'll suddenly figure out how to hit.
Wilmer Flores's name has been tossed around as a potential replacement, but the organization does not seem to view him highly at all. There's also the question of what kind of offense Flores would provide, after he hit just .211/.248/.295 in a brief stint with the Mets at the end of last season when he was compromised by injury.
Ultimately, the best 2014 Mets roster probably features Daniel Murphy as the primary second baseman, and barring some amazing trade offer or a willingness to sign Omar Infante or Mark Ellis, that means Murphy will likely stick around for 2014.
Desired 2014 role: The Mets' starting second baseman.
Expected 2014 role: The Mets' starting second baseman