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Coutinho: Should Mets Turn To Daniel Murphy At Leadoff?

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Daniel Murphy (credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

Daniel Murphy (credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

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By Rich Coutinho
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I know it’s very likely that Andres Torres will assume the role of leadoff hitter come Opening Day. But it got me thinking about what options Terry Collins will have if Torres is either injured or rendered ineffective.

Look up and down the Mets’ roster and there really aren’t many choices.

Then it occurred to me. Daniel Murphy could be an option.

I will be the first to admit Murphy lacks an important component of a successful leadoff hitter — speed. But he has so many of the other skills needed that it might be wise to consider him for the top spot in the order.

In 2011, Murphy hit .320 in 391 at bats with an OBP of .362. He crushed 28 doubles in less than 400 at bats. The “doubles” stat is important to consider. Without speed, Murphy would likely need to hit his way to second base rather than nab it on a steal. And I am sure the Mets would like the OBP to elevate toward .390, but Murphy has such a good command of the strike zone I think he could make that leap. You can either put Torres or Ruben Tejada,  who can bunt well, behind him. Those leadoff doubles could quickly become a man on third with one out situation for David Wright.

There’s another benefit to batting Murphy first, and that is his ability to hit with runners in scoring position and two outs (a .355 clip in 2011). Especially if the pitchers in the Mets’ order can successfully bunt runners over into scoring position. The speed factor is obviously a concern but it is not unheard of to have a player like Murphy in that spot. For years, Wade Boggs made it his place in the order. And Murphy, coming off a .320 season, can certainly be projected to hit in that area — and don’t discount his ability to make pitchers throw strikes.

Murphy’s doubles make him an attractive hitter — and one stat jumps out. In 79 at-bats leading off an inning last year, Murphy hit seven doubles. That is an outstanding percentage and the cozier dimensions at Citi Field may lift that number as well.

Murphy has always struck me as a throwback player, a guy that could have played in this town circa 1952. He hustles, he plays hard and studies the game. He is a tough hitter to strike out because he understands how to hit when behind in the count. In those situations, he gives up the inside of the plate and protects the outside especially against lefties. When ahead in the count, he gets aggressive and generally gets his fat part of the bat on the ball when he has that advantage.

The truth is Murphy embodies what a lead off hitter should be (aside from the speed factor). But in evaluating his ability to bat leadoff, his strengths should not be ignored even though he misses that one component. As we have seen with Jose Reyes, speed does change a game, so there is much to consider in batting Murphy first.

However, he may end being the best option for Terry Collins at some point in 2012.

Do you think Murphy has what it takes to bat leadoff? Sound off below…

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