By Brad Kallet
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For the first time since 2011 — when Jose Reyes was the National League batting champion — David Wright is not the best offensive player on the Mets.
Daniel Murphy has supplanted the captain as the club’s most dangerous offensive weapon.
Wright is still far and away New York’s best overall player. He’s the unequivocal leader, a Gold Glove defender and still a very good hitter.
But Murphy has quietly taken his game to the next level and developed into a superb player.
The 29-year-old is barely talked about nationally. Heck, he’s hardly recognized in New York City. You could make the argument that Murphy is the most underrated player in the game.
No, he’s not a sexy player. He doesn’t blast 450-foot home runs and make highlight-reel plays. But what the smooth-swinging lefty does do it hit. And hit a lot.
The second baseman finished second in the National League in hits in 2013 with 188 — how many non-Mets fans know that? — and is currently tied for third in the league with 55 hits.
He hits to all fields and, despite being a line-drive hitter, has surprising power. Add in impressive plate discipline and the ability to put the ball in play at a high rate, and you have a very complete hitter.
One aspect of his game that will make you rip your hair out is his baserunning. The veteran plays hard — as hard as one can play — but that sometimes backfires, causing him to unwisely go for the extra base and take off for third with nobody out and the heart of the order coming up. He’s reckless and sometimes runs his team out of innings, but he’s also learned how to effectively steal bases.
Compare his numbers to Wright’s. Murphy has a higher batting average (.318 to .281), more doubles (12 to 10), a higher on-base percentage (.368 to .323) and a higher OPS (.819 to .694). Murphy also has one more home run than the All-Star third baseman.
Murphy has also been more consistent and less streaky than Wright at the plate, which has led to four more walks and 25 fewer strikeouts.
And while Wright is far smarter on the basepaths, Murphy has grown into an efficient basestealer. The latter has swiped nine bags in 11 tries while the former has been caught twice in four attempts.
Known by the masses to be nothing more than an average major leaguer since he broke in the bigs in 2008, Murphy has a solid chance in 2014 — assuming his numbers don’t dramatically fall off — to earn his first All-Star selection.
Coming back to Wright, it appears that his best days are behind him. Still a very good player at 31, the face of the franchise should still have three or four quality years ahead of him, but it’s unlikely he’ll return to being the superstar that he was prior to signing the $138 million deal he inked in 2012. He’s not nearly the two-strike hitter he once was, and he doesn’t appear to be a 25-30 homer guy anymore. (Thank you, Citi Field.)
Of course, in his defense, he hasn’t had sufficient protection in the lineup since 2008. Imagine Wright came up with the Rangers or the Tigers or the Red Sox or the Yankees? He would have had a completely different career. And he’s still managed to have an excellent career in Flushing.
And despite Murphy’s strong numbers, Wright remains the club’s best player because his baseball IQ and his strong defense complement his bat. He still makes diving stops with the best of them and barehands slow rollers as well as any third baseman in the game. And he never, ever makes mental mistakes.
Murphy, a natural third baseman, has really come into his own at second base. Nobody will confuse him with Roberto Alomar anytime soon, but he’s become very comfortable since transitioning to the right side of the infield. He doesn’t make many errors and even occasionally takes you by surprise and makes a head-turning play.
Murphy’s career and Wright’s career aren’t comparable. That’s not up for debate, and likely never will be. And Wright is still a better player than the guy who hits ahead of him.
But in a tight situation, with the game on the line, ask yourself the following: Do you want Wright or Murphy at the plate?
The answer is Murphy.
Brad Kallet is an editor and columnist for CBSNewYork.com. He has written for TENNIS.com, MLB.com and SMASH Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet.
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