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On Mike Jacobs and Daniel Murphy, and 2B

By Howard Megdal ~ February 10th, 2010. Filed under: Howard Megdal.

The news that the Mets signed Mike Jacobs to a minor league contract filled me with mixed emotions. On the positive side, adding to organizational depth with a hitter who can provide some power, given the limited risk involved, strikes me as a fine idea. But the flip side is that unlike a minor league signing with a player who has limited big league experience, we have a pretty good idea at this point what Jacobs can and can’t do.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, what Jacobs can do is hit right-handed pitching. He has a career .830 OPS against righties, just a .643 OPS against lefties. The former is a decent half of a platoon, the latter a reason to keep him on the bench against lefties. His fielding at the position is below average as well.

Look, considering the public spectacle the Mets made out of Daniel Murphy working at first base with Keith Hernandez- ironically, the one member of the 2009 Mets infield who posted a strong defensive season- it appears the Mets have given up on Daniel Murphy at second base. But the signing of Jacobs means they would be far better served by a Jacobs platoon with Fernando Tatis, and Daniel Murphy at second base for Buffalo in 2010, than Murphy and Tatis platooning and Jacobs taking at-bats in Buffalo.

Let’s assume for the moment that Jacobs and Murphy would likely provide similar production at the position, with Murphy’s defensive advantage canceled out by Jacobs’ edge in offensive production against righties. In essence, it is a wash.

But looking beyond just 2010, Murphy profiles to me as about a 110 OPS+ hitter. He could be much more- I wouldn’t want to bet on it, however. And I think he’s unlikely to be much less-already, his career mark is 103.

Well, at second base, that would be an enormously useful offensive production, if he could handle the position. There were exactly three second basemen who cleared 110 OPS+ in the National League last year, with two of them-Felipe Lopez and Dan Uggla- barely doing so, at 111 apiece. Even if he performs to his to-date OPS+ of 103, he’s upper half at second base.

Now compare that to first base. In 2009, there were ten first basemen in the National League with above a 110 OPS+, and well above- Nick Johnson was tenth, at 122. His offense could improve significantly, reaching best possible levels, and Daniel Murphy would still struggle to reach the middle of the pack in NL first base production.

So there is no guarantee that Murphy will take to the position of second base, though there are reasons for optimism. For one thing, his range and capacity to learn first base on the fly in 2009 bodes well for both his versatility and some of the skills necessary at the position. He did play the position for a brief time in the minor leagues already. And by putting him in Buffalo for the season, away from the New York spotlight, he can take his time and really determine just how capable he can be.

For the organization, there simply isn’t a clear choice to play second base in even the medium-term. Reese Havens could be an answer, and I like him as a prospect, but the combination of low batting averages and more importantly, missed time due to injuries, mean that counting on him is a mistake.

Daniel Murphy, however, could be that medium-term second baseman, as early as 2011. More to the point, with the chances of him becoming even an average starter at 1B virtually nil, and a decent alternative for his production in the 1B platoon in 2010 now in hand, the Mets have nothing to lose by seeing if they have a low-cost, in-house solution at second base.

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Howard Megdal is the Editor-in-Chief of The Perpetual Post. He covers baseball, basketball and soccer for Capital New York, MLBTradeRumors.com, New York Baseball Digest and has written for ESPN.com as well as numerous other publications. He is the Poet Laureate for SBNation New York. His book about Jewish baseball players, “The Baseball Talmud,” is available for purchase on Amazon.com and wherever books are sold. His next book, "Taking The Field", is available for pre-order on Amazon.com and will publish in May 2011.

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6 Responses to On Mike Jacobs and Daniel Murphy, and 2B

  1. Tom Mudaprade

    are you serious? did I just read that you felt Murphy was a good defensive 1B? did you not watch the highlight reel of mistakes by him last season? his performance at 1B was a mess.

  2. Howard Megdal

    Tom, Murphy was +7.6 as per UZR/150 at 1B last year. He made 44 out-of-zone plays. The fact that he missed some basics- things he is likely to pick up as he goes- suggests he’ll be even better at the position in 2010. Or put another way, that his defensive skills are possibly wasted at 1B.

  3. t agee

    His play at 1B was not smooth by any means but in terms of covering a lot of ground, fielding ground balls and making quick accurate throws to 2B it was surprisingly good for someone who had never played the position. Does this mean he cannot use a lot of refinement at 1B? Of course not. He can use plenty of improvement but I believe he can be a very good first basemen. Now 2B is a totally different animal. To play 2B you need to go get the ball as oppossed to cutting it off. Speed, quickness, running on your toes with your glove down are vital. These aren’t skills that can be developed through hard work. I don’t see Murphy handling 2B very well and I wonder what yet another position change would do to his psyche. The most likely scenerio for Murphy is 1B with a non competative team like the Royals where he will have a MLB avg of .300 20 HR’s 40 doubles and play all around good defense while we continue to chase the perfect first basemen and continue to play guys there that just wave at ground balls, strike out a lot and look powerful in BP.

  4. Steve

    If the latest rumors again today about the Mets being broke (or having to pay back all of their Madoff profits) are true, that explains why at C, 1B, 2B and starting pitching have not been addressed at all this winter and why they’re going the bargain basement route. So it’s a throwback to 1978/79…. Bring back Frank Taveras, Dock Ellis, Jose Cardenal, Kevin Kobel, and how about Ron Hodges for catcher? Met fans, we’re going backwards, this isn’t good…

  5. R U Kidding

    Catcher? As a catcher Murphy’s bat would be strong. A guy that can play 3rd,LF,1B, and 2B could become a catcher. Look at Thole.

  6. Matt

    Even a 110 OPS at 1B with average defense is subpar for a team that should be contending for the NL east every year. I don’t even want to heckle, but look at how many things have to go right to get 85 wins. It’s one thing to be positive about Murphy’s potential, it’s another sad thing that he led the team with 12 hrs last year and is your starting first baseman.

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