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How Mets pitchers can attack Daniel Murphy

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Daniel Murphy is a legitimate MVP candidate through the end of June. Is there a way the Mets can slow his production?

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Murphy is a fundamentally different hitter these days. Murphy often tinkered with his mechanics as a member of the Mets, but he finally found a winning formula when he made a few adjustments with the help of hitting coach Kevin Long last season. Some of these adjustments included loading in a more crouched stance and getting his foot down earlier, which helped him drive the ball more effectively. It's helped lead Murph to—by far—the best season of his career, as he's hit .349/.391/.577 with a .228 ISO so far this year. Murphy has been the Nationals' most productive hitter in 2016 by OPS at .968, and he looks similar to the guy we saw dominate in the playoffs last year.

Another part of Murphy's 2015 adjustment was moving closer to the plate. When a hitter moves closer to the plate in an effort to cover the outside more effectively, you have to wonder if it leaves him a little more vulnerable on pitches inside.

Checking Murphy's 2016 zone performances, that doesn't appear to be the case on the surface. Murphy is hitting .370 on pitches located on the inner third of the plate, with a .778 slugging percentage and .407 ISO. These are ridiculously elite numbers.

But digging a little bit deeper into the Statcast database, maybe there's something in there that the Mets can attempt to attack with the repertoire that some of the Mets pitchers have. Murphy does not generate the same amount of force behind his batted balls on pitches on the inner third of the plate that he does on pitches elsewhere. He also does not generate as many line drive trajectories on pitches on the inner third of the plate.

First, the force behind his batted balls. Here's a table showing Murphy's exit velocities by pitch location over the plate, including both a percentage of his batted balls with an exit velocity of 100+ mph and the raw average.

Daniel Murphy Outer third Middle third Inner third
Percentage of balls in play (BIP) hit 100+ mph 31.5% 31.5% 9.1%
Average exit velocity 93.4 mph 94.0 mph 83.8 mph

And here are the major league averages for those zones for a left handed batter.

MLB average Outer third Middle third Inner third
Percentage of balls in play (BIP) hit 100+ mph 29.3% 30.0% 17.9%
Average exit velocity 92.8 mph 92.3 mph 86.4 mph

There is a pretty stark drop off in the overall force behind Murphy's batted balls on pitches located on the inner third of the plate, both in terms of high end velocity and average velocity. The average left handed batter hits about 18% of his batted balls 100+ mph on pitches located on the inner third of the plate. Murphy has hit just 9% of them 100+ mph.

Murphy also does not hit as many line drives off pitches located on the inside part of the plate.

Daniel Murphy Outer third Middle third Inner third
Line drive rate 28.8% 29.8% 11.5%

Here are the MLB average line drive rates for those zones for a left handed batter.

MLB average Outer third Middle third Inner third
Line drive rate 26.3% 26.8% 25.4%

Murphy has a significantly lower line drive rate on batted balls located off pitches on the inner third of the plate than the average left handed batter. Murphy also has a higher pop up rate (19.2%) than line drive rate (11.5%) on batted balls off pitches located on the inner third of the strike zone.

It seems that there could be something here worth attacking. The combination of limiting the velocity of a hitter's batted balls and limiting the amount of line drives sounds like a good way to help get future production under control.

Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon in particular have really good front hip two-seamers, pitches that start at the front hip of lefties and run over the inner third of the plate.

Bartolo will miss the Nationals this upcoming series, but Syndergaard pitches tonight.

Maybe there's a way to attack Murphy that doesn't quite show up in the outcomes, and maybe the Mets can use this to their advantage.