John L. Fischer, Contributor:
By now, most of us have heard this story of Daniel Murphy… you know, the one when they were going around the room, and each player introduced themselves and said what position he played. And when it got to be Murphy’s turn, he smiled and said, “Hi. I’m Daniel Murphy, and I bat third.”
Now, after nearly five years in the Majors, Murphy has been as good as — sometimes even better than — his word. So far in this short season, in fact, he may be as about as locked in as we’ve ever seen him at the plate.
And while his more-than-occasional mental lapses on the base paths and limited defensive abilities worry us all, he has become an artist at the dish — an artist with such a tireless work ethic that Mets’ coaches and executives worry that he might be overdoing it. However, the numbers don’t lie.
After 20 games this season, of the nearly 200 players across MLB — those with, at least, the minimum required number of at bats — Murphy is hitting an impressive .346, good enough for 15 on the overall list. Throw in a .538 slugging percentage (third in the majors for second baseman), an OPS of .927 (second in the majors among second baseman), and he’s in the top 20 in both hits and doubles among all players, it seems as if his penchant for simply outworking the competition has begun to pay dividends. Small sample sizes, sure, but still nice to see.
You’d be hard pressed to find too many guys in the Majors with better two-strike “emergency hacks” swings, but his early-season, aggressive approach is pretty entertaining to watch. (Did all of us forget that this guy had less than one dozen Spring Training at bats, due to that oblique injury? If we forgot about it, maybe Murphy did, too.)
Since he first came up in August of 2008, it was very clear that Murphy could, one day, be a very special hitter. What he lacks in raw power, he compensates for in plate discipline. Murphy is seeing 3.8 pitches per plate appearance this year, and has seen an average of 3.78 in his major league career. Even though the Mets might like to see more power from him across an entire season, he’s off to a good start in that regard: To date, of his 27 hits, 10 have been for extra bases, including seven doubles.
He has already hit as many as 40 doubles in a season (in 2012), and if he can eclipse his career home run high of 12 in 2009 (which — amazingly — led the team), Terry Collins may need to consider changing his spot in the order — so he has an opportunity to drive in more runs. He’s an awfully good number two hitter, though, and it’s a good problem to have.
So ask yourself this: If you had to have a hit — any hit that meant the difference between winning and losing — who do you want at the plate for the Mets? Pretty subjective question, I know, but is there really much doubt?
Sports in New York are — and should be — about winning; I think we all get that. And no matter how you slice it, most of us think that, in baseball in particular, there’s no substitute for talent. Somebody did once write, though, that “Motivation will almost always beat mere talent.” Again, that’s a matter of opinion and up for debate.
So if ambition and effort can really make that much of a difference, maybe those two qualities, when combined, can ultimately trump talent? Either way, I’ll bet that our man, Murph, is more than willing to be the test case.