For the first two months of the season, the Mets weakest link on the field was Ike Davis at first base.
That isn’t the case anymore, as Davis has had an excellent May, hitting .275/.442/.425 with a 12/13 K/BB ratio.
And despite Ruben Tejada’s prolonged absence, it isn’t shortstop as Omar Quintanilla has out performed any reasonable expectations, hitting .306/.414/.449 along with very good defense.
No, the Mets biggest weakness amongst position players is almost certainly Daniel Murphy at second base. Murphy’s defense has been poor but that isn’t the main concern as it was never a strength of his. His bat was always the thing that kept him in the lineup. You can live with mediocre defense at second if you get a 124 wRC, which Murphy provided last year. This year, the Mets aren’t getting anything close to that from Murphy.
After posting a .448 SLG% in 2011, Murphy’s power has completely evaporated this year as he has yet to hit a single homerun. When you look at his batted ball splits on Fangraphs, it becomes apparent why that is. Murphy’s LD rate to left and center are over 20% and his GB rate is at about 44% for each. To right field, he’s hitting over 75% of his balls on the ground and has a pathetic 10.8% LD rate. When you’re a left handed batter and can’t hit flyballs or line drives to the right field, you aren’t going to get a lot of extra base hits.
For the first two months of year, this wasn’t too big of a problem as Murphy still managed to get on base, posting .350 and .361 on-base-percentages in April and May. June has seen Murphy taken a descent into territory not seen in Mets recent history.
His power has taken a significant step downward, as he is slugging well under .300 in June. That is insignificant when compared to the fact that Murphy’s walk total in June is….zero. Zero walks in 58 AB. Jeff Francoeur never went a month without a walk as a Met.
Murphy’s slash line for June is .190/.190/.259, a level of futility even Ike Davis never reached at his worst. Given that the Mets have at least a shot of contending this year, they cannot afford to continue to start Murphy on a regular basis.
While one may look at the Davis situation and try to draw parallels, it simply isn’t reasonable to do so. Davis is an above average fielding first baseman and Murphy is a mediocre at best second baseman. More importantly, Murphy is two years older than Davis and was never a top prospect, unlike Davis. The Mets believe Davis to be in their long-term future; that is not the case with Murphy.
Not taking walks or hitting for power does not necessarily preclude one from being a good hitter. Ichiro Suzuki made a career of hitting the ball on the ground and beating the throw to first base. Suzuki also happened to be very, very fast. Murphy is significantly slower which means he will never be able to sustain a high average by pounding the ball on the ground.
The one saving grace for Murphy may be the fact that the Mets do not have a lot of second base options at the moment and Justin Turner is no better than Murphy. However, Ronny Cedeno is currently on a rehab assignment and when he returns later next week, he will reclaim the starting job at shortstop. Then, the Mets would have the option of moving Quintanilla to second base, where’s he played 523 innings in his career and fared well. The Mets will probably not get great offense from him all year, but at the very least they would get good defense.
It’s a crossroads for Murphy in his career. You can’t sent him down to AAA and expect significant improvement. At the league level, Murphy must learn how to stop chasing bad pitches out of the zone, start drawing walks again, and regain the ability to drive the ball to right field. If he doesn’t do that, then #28 is a bench player and nothing more. After what he did last year, that would be a shame.