Yesterday, Jordanny Valdespin got the start at second base for the Amazins. He’s been riding a hot streak, going 11-37 with a homer and four doubles in the month of June, but the fact that he got the nod over Daniel Murphy was surprising because 1)it was Murphy’s second game off in the series and 2)a lefty was on the mound. Odds are Terry Collins was just giving Murphy some extra time off, given his recent funk, and wanted to keep Valdespin’s hot bat in the lineup, but should Murphy be worried about his playing time in the future?
Murph has always been someone who can hit. He’s a .288 career hitter in the Majors and .295 in the minors. However, the batting average isn’t the problem, though he’s currently hitting .270 (even with a standard BABIP of .309, the average should rise because Murphy puts the ball in play so much). The concern is regarding his power and ability to get on base if he’s not hitting.
The lack of power has been well documented, since Murphy is homerless so far this year. Most probably expected Murphy to hit somewhere around 10-15 home runs this season, but that doesn’t appear likely at this point. He smacked 12 long balls in 2009 (in what was basically a full season-556 plate appearances) and six last year before getting hurt (423 PA). For his career, Murph is slugging
.421, which isn’t anything outstanding, but decent for a second baseman who hit for average (Murph slugged .452 in the minors).
This season, Murphy is slugging just .342, with 17 doubles in 281 PA. Part of the reason for his lack of power is that Murphy is hitting fewer fly balls. Last season, he hit 31.1% of his balls in the air, and 41.3% in ’09. This year, that rate has dropped to 23.0% while his ground ball rate has skyrocketed from 40.0% in ’09 to 56.1% in ’12. His line drive rate of 20.9% this season is consistent with his career rate of 21.5%, but hitting fewer balls in the air and more on the ground means fewer home runs. In some cases, hitters get too home run happy and swing for the fences all the time, leading to a lot of fly ball outs (think Rey Ordonez after he’d hit his annual home run), which isn’t good either. However, it’d be nice to see some more lift to Murphy’s swing since he does possess the power to knock a few out of the park. Still, the Mets could live with his lack of power if he produced a high OBP. He hasn’t though, and that is more alarming than zero home runs.
For his career, Murphy owns a .337 OBP, which again, isn’t that great, but isn’t terrible. This year, his OBP has fallen to .313, which is not good. The OBP trouble can be traced back to Murphy’s lack of walks-he’s drawn just 17 this season a rate of 6.0%. Last season, he walked at just a 5.7% clip, but he batted .320, which kept his OBP at a very solid .362. Murphy has been mired in a slump recently, causing his batting average, OBP and productivity to come down.
Murph is just 13-70 in June, a .186 average, but what’s also frustrating is that he hasn’t walked once, and at this rate, it is conceivable he could go the entire month of June without obtaining a free pass. It isn’t that he strikes out a lot (his strikeout rate this season is 12.1%, which is well below the league average of 19.6%), but that he swings all the time. According to FanGraphs, Murphy swings 47.2% of the time, a few ticks above the league average of 45.4%, while making contact an incredible 90.5% of the time, well above the league mark of 80.0%. However, he swings at pitches outside the strike zone 34.0% of the time, above the league mark of 30.0%) and while he makes contact with those pitches an astonishing 83.2% of the time, it’s harder to pick up base hits. Last year, Murph swung at 31.9% of pitches outside the zone, so the rate has increased a little.
If Murphy had zero home runs but was drawing walks, it would be OK. Or if he was hitting for more power and still swinging at everything, it would be OK. But the fact that Murphy isn’t hitting for power or drawing walks means he is essentially relying on his batting average, and now that he’s in a slump, his offensive productivity has decreased dramatically. He owns a wRC+ of 83 and an fWAR of -0.3 (part of which can be attributed to defense). Murph is too good of a hitter to stay in a funk for too long, and he should return to racking up base hits in time. In the short term, Valdespin might pick up some more at bats, but for the rest of this season, Murphy’s job is probably safe. In the long term, however, Murphy may have more competition at second base.