Super Dan?By: kconlin
Welcome Ike Davis! The promotion of the first baseman has given Mets fans everywhere a reason for optimism. Our collective psyche has taken quite a pounding since the Wainwright hammer that bent over the outside black and ended the 2006 NLCS. Really, the news represents one of the only positive developments to surround the Mets over the last few months (Reyes’ return was a tremendous sight, but partially because of the strife that we endured the 11 months prior). Obviously, we should temper our expectations a bit and keep things in perspective. After all, Davis’ minor league numbers are reminiscent of another Mets’ first base prospect who once burst onto the scene.
- Mike Jacobs 2003 Age 22 season in AA: .329/.376/.548 21.4% strikeout rate
- Ike Davis 2009 Age 22 season in AA: 309/.386/.565 29.0 % strikeout rate
But how can you not get pumped about this kind of raw power? Davis’ promotion is happy news for almost everyone involved. Everyone except Daniel Murphy. Currently sidelined with a right knee injury, the Mets’ incumbent first baseman has yet to see the field in 2010, and when he does his team will seemingly have no position for him. Assuming that Ike Davis gets every chance to produce and shine, it seems that Murphy has been Wally Pipp-ed. As Murphy rehabs, the Mets will probably re-visit the path of 2009, trying to expand upon his versatility and groom him for another shot at second base or for a possible super utility role.
Murphy came up through the system playing mostly third base, struggling at times with errors, but earning a reputation as an average defender (He registered a slightly above average +2 in the Minor League Total Zone rating system over 213 games). The Mets briefly tried him out at a second base in the Arizona Fall League before giving him the opportunity to play an ugly left field for the first month of 2009. He finally found a home when Carlos Delgado’s bum hip left a vacancy at first base. While Murphy has occasionally looked awkward in the field, his glove work in 2009 showed that his defense can be a strength. UZR found him to be the 4th best defensive first baseman in the bigs last year, while plus/minus actually had him tied for first (with Albert Pujols and Kevin Youkilis).
How would this defensive production translate at second base? That’s difficult to predict, but in light of his 2009 successes at first, it might be said that his defense is trending up. One year on defense is a relatively small sample size, but overall improvements in Murphy’s foot and glove work wouldn’t be entirely surprising given his notoriously strong work ethic. All this might warrant giving Murphy another chance at second. If Murphy did manage to provide some modicum of defense, how would his bat stack up against other second sackers?
Average statistics for top 20 second baseman:
- 2008 - 83.0 R, 14.2 HR, 63.9 RBI, 14.9 SB, .289 BA
- 2009 - 86.5 R, 18.5 HR, 77.2 RBI, 13.7, SB, .283 BA
- Murphy 2009 - 60.0 R, 12.0 HR, 63.0 RBI, 4.0 SB, .266 BA
Obviously those numbers were the product of Murphy’s first full season in the big leagues (at the age of 24), hitting in a terrible lineup and a pitcher’s park. That said, even a significant uptick in those stats would leave him as an average producing second baseman with undetermined defensive capabilities (though, as such, Murphy could still reasonably be the Mets best option at second).
But if Murphy can’t show enough to merit a full-time second base gig, a utility role might be what he is best suited for anyway. He already has a reputation as a hard worker and someone who always hustles, and has proven to be a selfless, team-first type individual. He has already had exposure to several different positions on the field and has given indications that he can play one well and at least one other adequately. Quite honestly though, his bat doesn’t profile well at any position he can reasonably play.
It seems that Murphy could prove quite valuable as someone who starts 3 or 4 times a week, spelling the stars on rest days and providing insurance against injury. Right now, that role on the Mets is occupied by Fernando Tatis, a solid bat on the downward slope of his career and nothing special in the field (-10.1 combined UZR last season). Murphy has the ability and youth to exceed Tatis’ production on both sides of the ball.
Let’s face it, Murphy has had something of an identity problem. The Mets are always trying to find him a position. Maybe they should be embracing his lack of define-ability. At the very least, it would be easier and probably more fun to be able to appreciate Murphy for what he is rather than lamenting what he isn’t. Murphy could be our Joe McEwing with more bat—a fan favorite and an important contributor. And who knows, maybe he could become more and blossom in this role the way that other star utility men like Mark DeRosa (.272/.317/.335 in AA when he was a 24 year old) did. Ultimately, the role that Murphy settles into will probably be a reflection of the Mets’ available talent pool. Let’s hope that they can keep enough skilled position players on the field to allow Murphy to be what he really should be—a complementary piece that has a chance to be super.