What’s With Daniel Murphy’s Slump?

By Matt Musico

After hitting .301 through April and May this season, Daniel Murphy has dropped off once the calendar hit June. This month, he’s boasting a triple slash of .188/.188/.261…not something worth writing home about. To make matters worse, Murphy hasn’t been running the base paths very well and leads all second basemen in errors this season. This slump, coupled with his season long power outage (0 HR in 262 ABs) have gotten people talking about Jordany Valdespin, who has shown more pop than Murphy in half the at-bats this season. Though Valdespin may be the 2nd baseman of the future in some people’s eyes (not mine), there is an easy fix to Murphy’s slump that includes some slight adjustments.

While Murph has never been known as a home run hitter, one can normally expect between 10-15 longballs in any given season, so not having any as we get close to July can be concerning. What’s more concerning to me is that Murphy isn’t hitting the ball in the air as much as he was last year, when he produced at a .320/.362/.448 clip in 462 at-bats. His GB/FB

ratio is 2.42, almost 1.00 higher than last year’s ratio (1.52). Although he’s hitting line drives at the same rate (21% in ’12 vs. 21.9% in ’11), the previous statistic shows that he’s hitting more groundballs than ever. He’s hitting balls on the ground at a 55.9% rate this year, up nearly 9% from last year, and is hitting the ball in the air 23.1% of the time, an 8% decrease from the season prior.

It is understandable that a hitter doesn’t want to hit the ball in the air too often because it will be easier for defensive players to make a play, but Murphy is a doubles hitter, so getting the ball in the air, whether it’s a line drive or fly ball, is incredibly important. So, why is this happening? Like almost any slump, Murph has looked off-balance at the plate, rolling over pitches a lot and almost playing pepper with the second baseman on a nightly basis. This is happening because pitchers are not throwing him as many fastballs as last year, and he hasn’t been able to adjust to it yet.

Since he broke onto the scene with New York in 2008, he’s seen a fastball at the plate about 62% of the time. So far this season, pitchers have only been throwing a fastball to Murphy about 57% of the time. From last year to this year, he’s seen more sliders (+1.7%), cutters (+1.3%), curveballs (+0.9%), and changeups (+1.3%) than ever before. That doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but with baseball being a game of inches, it means a lot. It now makes sense that Murphy is playing pepper with the second baseman, because he’s out in front of all the off-speed pitches that are getting thrown at him, and rolling them over on the ground to the right side of the infield.

A simple adjustment needs to be made for him break out of this month-long slump and get back to the productive hitter we know he is. Murphy has always been able to adjust to what pitchers have been doing to him, it’s just taking him a little longer to do so. Will he be our second baseman for years to come? That’s not very likely. However, all this talk about trading Murphy or sitting him in favor of Valdespin is nonsenese. After how we saw Terry Collins stood by Ike Davis, there is no way the Mets are going to give up on Daniel Murphy this quickly. He hit a couple balls hard last night, so let’s see if he can build on that tonight against Brian Matusz.