Coutinho: Should Mets Turn To Daniel Murphy At Leadoff?

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…

  • Tony Fair

    This article is depressing and reminds why I should forget about baseball this season.

  • vinny

    the leadoff hitter is batting leadoff likely just once in the game; I like the point about Murph hitting doubles with a runner on 2nd after the pitcher has bunted the runner over

  • srozell

    In 2 out, runner in SP situations, I remember Jose struggling mightily. Near the end of the season, Jose wasn’t even running much. Therefore, if Torres can’t find a groove, I’d like to see Murphy get that shot at lead-off.

  • A.L. Hern

    The article misses one very salient point: irrespective of his batting average and ability to get on base, a lead-off hitter who isn’t a threat to steal second lacks the critical ability to unnerve the pitcher, which has the effect of getting the subsequent batters better pitches to hit.

    Even if Murphy can consistently reach second base via hotting doubles, base-runners on second do not draw many pick-off throws, even when the runners are a threat to steal.

    If Rickey Henderson was, indeed, “the greatest” (his words), it was because, once on base, he generally had pitchers at his mercy, and the rest of the batting order benefited from it.

    • Brian Stark

      You know what is unnerving to a pitcher? Runner in scoring position with no one out. THe speed thing is overrated.

      And why give the most at bats in the game to a guy with a .320 OBP (Torres) jsut because he “looks” the part? Rificulous.

    • Alan

      Precisely. And on pitch outs the #4 and #4 hitters often get a free ball.

    • Lou

      You know something though, how many base runners in the league really “unnerve” pitchers just by being on base? It’s very few imo these days. The one that did it the most just left for Miami.

      There weren’t only 3 guys in all of baseball last year who had more than 40 steals, and none of them had an OBP over .350. And more importantly, none of the alternatives for the Mets (Torres, Tejada) have a chance of being that kind of baserunner. So if that’s the case, I could see Murphy doing a decent job in the role.

      Heck, he’s not that much slower than Jeter, and Jeter’s seemed to excel in the 1-hole, despite not being a typical leadoff hitter.

  • Paul Marin

    When Daniel Murphy is a solution to the Mets on-the-field shortcomings, it shows how desperate this team really is. Sure, Murphy is a bat, but has no speed and would clog up the bases. In a perfect world, Murphy would be our left-handed bat off the bench. Enough with the fascination…

  • Lou

    You know, this doesn’t sound like a bad idea the more I think about it. There’s really only 1 flaw with it, and that’s this: “Those leadoff doubles could quickly become a man on third with one out situation for David Wright.”

    Does anyone really think Wright will get the runner home in that situation more than 20% of the time? Lol.

  • philip

    I think it is a terrific idea. Speed at the top is useless if you can’t get on base. Also, in the national league driving in that run that was bunted over breaks the back of the opposing team.

  • Nick Rumpl

    Is English your first language? Read the headline, think a minute, write it again.

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