As a freshman at Jacksonville University, Daniel Murphy once said, “My name is Daniel Murphy, and I bat third.” Murphy showed what he could do from an offensive standpoint in 2011, batting .320/.362/.448 before suffering a season-ending injury in August. In fact, the Mets seem to value his bat so much, that he is penciled in as the Opening Day second baseman, despite his lack of defensive prowess. But just how bad is Murphy’s defense at second base? Not as bad as one might think.
As Jon Scippa pointed out, the sample size is small, but there are a few indicators that Murphy could be an OK option at second base; that is, not a liability all of the time. Murphy has only appeared in 24 Major League games at second base, totaling 168.1 innings. In 93 chances, he’s recorded 36 putouts and 55 assists while committing two errors (both of the fielding variety), good for a fielding percentage of .978. He’s also been involved in five double plays, starting two of them and turning three of them.
From a sabermetric standpoint, Murphy cost the Mets two defensive runs, but posted a UZR of 1.8. Given the small sample size, it’s difficult to read a lot into these numbers, but there are a couple of trends that seem to have emerged. For a middle infielder, defensive runs saved is the sum of plus/minus runs above average (basically a player’s range) and infield double play runs above average. For infield double play runs, Murphy graded out at minus two, but he scored a zero in terms of plus/minus runs, meaning that his range was average.
The data from FanGraphs seems to corroborate this claim. His total UZR is the sum of double play runs above average, error runs above average and range runs above average. Murphy was worth -0.3 double play runs -0.5 error runs in 2012, but was worth 2.6 range runs. Again, the sample size is small, but in limited work, Murphy’s range at second base was up to snuff.
Of course, there is more to second base than just range. Murphy still needs work on turning double plays and his timing in general, something that he has acknowledged. He is expected to work a lot with Tim Teufel this spring, and nobody has ever questioned Murphy’s work ethic. Whether that hard work pays off is another story.
Murphy doesn’t quite pass the eye test at second base, and he might never look graceful manning that position. But the Mets aren’t asking Murphy to be Roberto Alomar; all they are hoping for is an average defender who won’t harm the team defensively on a regular basis. If he can do that and continue to hit, the Amazins will be thrilled.