How did the Mets let go of Daniel Murphy? That’s a question in desperate need of an answer, as each and every way you slice the apple it remains clear that the Mets made a monumental mistake in not re-signing him. Yet all the more perplexing is that despite the obvious circumstances, the Mets fanbase is noticeably silent regarding the significant error, and the media has yet to fully document the matter as well. Is it denial? Is it an oversight? Is it a narrative that nobody around baseball wants to hear? Probably a combination of all three - yet no matter the rationale, the reality still remains the same - that the Mets let a historical record breaking player get away for all the wrong reasons.
While it has indeed been widely reported that Murphy has had a breakout year with the Washington Nationals, in which he led the MLB in Batting Average for most of the season, it hasn’t entirely been analyzed just how poor the Mets judgment truly was. Of course there’s the major talking point, that “the Daniel Murphy in the postseason was an aberration… that us Mets fans saw the ‘real’ Daniel Murphy in his first six seasons of mediocrity...” Thus after last season Murphy was thought to be replaceable… and the large majority of the fans and media offered no appeals as to why he should stay… all but saying ‘good riddance’ to a Top 10 hitter in the franchise’s history.
Yet I’m not sure they even knew that statistic… in fact I’m almost positive they didn’t… considering I don’t recall ever hearing that talking point discussed at any point during the offseason. In fact let me outright pose another question… do Mets fans and media personnel, even today, realize that that Murphy is #8 on the Mets All Time Batting Average list - ending his time with the club with a .288 average??? I supremely doubt it, because once again that apparently didn’t fit the narrative.
Later we’ll discuss what kind of company a .288 average gets you, but even without the statistics… there were moments… lots of moments… even some very recent record breaking moments… that should make any baseball fan wonder how the Mets managed to strike out looking with their own homegrown talent.
The 394th pick of the 2006 MLB Draft, Daniel Murphy was selected by the NY Mets after batting .398 his Junior season at Jacksonville University and being name the A-Sun Player of the Year. Murphy was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida and the Dolphins had been the only 4 year school that offered him a scholarship. In his 3 years at the school Murphy excelled at the plate, where even as a Freshman he prefered to introduce himself by his batting order as opposed to his fielding position, the latter of what’s been always known to be his achilles heel. In his final game at Jacksonville, Murphy limped to the plate as a pinch-hitter in the A-Sun Championship, and lined one off the right center field wall to score two runs and win the game.
Murphy’s professional career began later that year with the Brooklyn Cyclones followed by a 2007 campaign with the High-A St Lucie Mets of the Florida State League, where he hit for .285 with 11 HR and 78 RBI’s. The next season Murphy played for the Double A Binghamton Mets where his numbers only went up and he was promoted to AAA by late summer. Murphy played in only 1 game for the New Orleans Zephyrs before Mets outfielder Marlon Anderson was placed on injured reserve, and then on August 2nd, 2008 - only 2 years out of college - he unfathomably was called up to the show.
In his first major league at bat, Murphy hit a single against 3 time All Star Roy Oswalt, and in the same game made an acrobatic catch off the left field wall, followed by a throw out at second base for an inning ending double play. He became the full time starter in left field soon after, and finished his rookie campaign batting .313 and 17 RBI in 49 games played, which was good enough to retain his starting position the following year.
Murphy was decent in his first full season in the Majors, hitting .266 with 63 RBIs and a team leading 12 HR’s (tied with the ‘77 Mets as the lowest amount of HR’s to the lead the team in franchise history), where he also made the switch to first base and saw his fielding improve. The following 2010 season he was penciled in once again to be a starter, but he suffered a knee sprain in spring training and then later during his AAA rehab stint - ultimately having to sit out the entire year.
In 2011 Murphy returned and was hitting .320 in August before he suffered another season ending knee injury, where his average was good enough for 3rd in the National League (despite the fact his 391 at bats weren’t enough to qualify). In 2012 Murphy was determined to prove to his doubters that he could stay healthy and be productive for a full season, and he did just that hitting .291 over 156 games. However the following ‘13 campaign was even better, playing in 161 games and batting .286 with 13 home runs and 78 RBIs. He finished 2nd in the National League that year with 188 hits, and led the NL in stolen base success rate, swiping 23/26 bases, an 88.4 percent success rate. Following the end of both the ‘12 and ‘13 seasons, Murphy had been nominated for the MLBPAA Heart & Hustle Award - both times losing out to Mike Trout and Dustin Pedroia.
In 2014 Murphy was selected as a reserve to his first All Star Game, where at the time of selection he was 2nd in the NL in Batting Average. This was the only season that he was honored as an All Star during his time in New York, despite his stellar numbers in seasons prior where he posted OPSes (On Base + Slugging) of .735, .733, and .734 consecutively. During these seasons however the Mets were often in contention but never made it the playoffs, thus Daniel Murphy had been in the league 6 years without a postseason at bat… yet that would soon dramatically change...
In 2015 Murphy had a career high 14 HRs and the Mets won their division for the first time since 2006. In the NLDS vs the Dodgers, Murphy hit .333 with 3 HRs and 5 RBIs, with 2 of those HRs coming off the 6 time All Star and former MVP Clayton Kershaw.
In the NLCS Murphy continued to make history, batting .529 with 4 HRs and 6 RBIs, all the more impressive when you consider the caliber of pitching he was up against (Zack Greinke, Jake Arietta, and Jon Lester) - making him the 3rd player in history to hit home runs off the MLB leaders in wins, ERA, and strikeouts in the same postseason - joining the likes of legends Frank Thomas and Mickey Mantle.
Yet that wasn’t the only baseball royalty that Murphy would soon be next to, as on way to becoming the NLCS MVP he broke Carlos Beltran’s record for consecutive home runs in the postseason, Mike Piazza’s Mets record for most home runs in a post season, and tied Lou Gehrig's record for accumulating a hit, run, and RBI in 7 consecutive postseason games.
As his teammate David Wright said about the new MLB records… “Six games in a row of home runs in the playoffs… that’s Jordan-esque.”
Then came the World Series, and Murphy, along with the rest of the Mets collapsed altogether. Murphy batted .150 with 3 hits in 20 at bats with no runs batted in, and furthermore had 2 critical errors including 1 in the 8th inning of Game 4 that practically sealed their fate. Still it should be noted, Murphy wasn’t alone in this epic meltdown. Yoenis Cespedes batted the SAME EXACT AVERAGE and opened up Game 1 by allowing an inside the park home run on the very first pitch.
Otherwise Travis D’arneu batted .143 out of 20 at bats, Wilmer Flores batted .059 out of 17 at bats, David Wright batted .208 out of 20 at bats, while Granderson, Duda, and Conforto only played well sparingly.
Thus after losing in 5 games the Mets were forced with a decision. Murphy, Cespedes, or Both. And after offering Murphy a relatively healthy one year deal, the Mets allowed Murphy to sign with their division rivals for a three year deal that was just as comparable. Murphy got 37.5 mil over 3 years from the Washington Nationals, a nice number but rather modest compared to what the Mets paid Cespedes, who many would say has a much higher upside than Murphy without question… disregarding a wide variety of baseball criteria.
Yet even if the Mets felt compelled to make Cespedes the priority, one would have to think they could have offered Murphy a contract he couldn’t refuse - that is considering what he signed for - and also the fact that the Mets signed Carlos Beltran to a seven-year, $119 million contract the season after he broke the HR record (the record that Murphy had just surpassed). Therefore despite a one year offer it was clear the Mets believed Murphy was expendable, and based on how this season went that’s a move that proved to be fatal.
As stated before throughout his 7 seasons in NY, Murphy batted .288, good enough for 8th all time in Mets franchise history. Just for perspective, here’s a list of current & retired players who shared that same exact career average: Jose Reyes, Paul O’Neal, Rafael Palmeiro, Pablo Sandoval, Matt Kemp, Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Melky Cabrera, Jacoby Elsbury, and many many more who have averages less favorable.
And then there was his leadership, where few players could say they played with more fire.
And as far as his achilles heel, despite conventional wisdom Murphy was only once in the Top 10 for errors in a season, and wasn’t immune to making spectacular plays from time to time either. Here is one of many on his highlight reel.
You would think the Mets would have given a Top 10 hitter in franchise history some more consideration, yet they inexplicably let him go to their biggest threat in the division, and in 2016 they definitely paid for it.
Daniel Murphy finished his first season in Washington batting .347 which was .01 short of the NL (and MLB) batting title, and 1st in the NL in On-Base Percentage (.391) and Slugging (.596). He also was 4th in the NL in RBIs, going over the 100 mark for the first time in his career. Additionally he led the league in doubles and along the way he absolutely destroyed his former team for good measure, slashing (.413/.444/.773) with 6 doubles, 7 home runs, 21 RBIs, 5 walks and 9 Ks in 81 plate appearances. With hits in all 19 games vs the Mets, it’s the longest hit streak vs a former team since Lou Brock’s 17-game hit streak vs the Cubs in 1969, and it’s also tied for the longest single-season hitting streak vs any one team in the divisional era (since 1969) as noted by @NationalsPR.
It’s the highest batting average from any Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos player in a single season in franchise history, including over 9x All Star and likely Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero.
Nonetheless all this makes Murphy a clear MVP candidate, without a doubt.
Yet despite the credentials it’s widely assumed that the honor will go to Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs, another strong candidate who is high in the ranks of a number of different categories. He’s 1st in the NL in Runs, 3rd in HRs, 4th in Slugging and OPS, and 6th in RBI’s. He’s also 1st in the NL (4th overall) in Offensive WAR (the sabermetrics) and plays multiple different positions all over the field. Very respectable resume, but is that really better than Murphy?
If not I suppose it’s all about the fielding correct? The other part of the game where Murphy is apparently such a liability? Let’s compare the 2 players based on evidence provided from FanGraphs, the most popular baseball database on the internet. (IEF rates the difficulty of every defensive play in six categories — Impossible, Remote (5 percent chance), Unlikely (25 percent), Even (50), Likely (75) and Routine (95).) And within that study it’s been determined that there is virtually no difference between Bryant’s and Murphy’s defensive performance — a gap of fewer than two made plays. The reality is that they’re both mediocre and Bryant has made 1.735 more plays than Murphy — a minuscule difference of less than two singles over the course of a season.
Then comes a variety of X Factors, such as a player’s primary position, winning percentage, and the talent that player has around him. While both players played multiple positions this year, Murphy is an up the middle player while Bryant often plays the corners, and historically MVP consideration would be edged to shortstops or second basemen. (Although more recently the AL MVP has gone to a 3rd baseman 3 out of the last 4 seasons, thus potentially the sign of a different trend.)
Otherwise they both play on good teams that won their division, but in a year where Murphy had all these accolades Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper both hit in the .240s, while Bryant was surrounded by the likes of Anthony Rizzo who’s 2nd in the NL in RBIs and 7th in Slugging; another MVP candidate himself.
The reality is that the Cubs seemed to have become fan favorites across the league, illustrated by how 5 of their players (including their entire infield) were selected as starters to the All Star Game this year. (Sidenote : the fact that Ben Zobrist was selected as a starter over Murphy is a joke, even more of a slight than potentially losing the MVP to Bryant). Yet no matter who gets the recognition the play on the field is the ultimate truth, and while the Cubs may have been adopted as America’s team, the best player bats third in the Nation’s capital.