Daniel Murphy, 2012 man crush finalist, has made big changes

As of yesterday, 25 players have at least 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases. Predicting players who will finish with at least 10 homers and 20 steals shrinks the group down to 15. Take a look at that list and you’ll see an unlikely name: New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy.

I’m a fan of Murphy. I owned him for most of last year because of his adequate counting stats coupled with his high batting average; I considered his flirtation with double-digit homers and steals icing on the cake.

Early in the year, I dismissed Murphy because of the relative strength at the position at the time, especially compared to how Murphy was playing, which was underwhelming. But he has taken flight since, and his 2013 line looks as such:

.277/.309/.396, 10 HR, 75 R, 61 RBI, 18 SB

There are some disturbing trends: ignoring the small sample size of his 2008 debut, his strikeout rate (13.8 percent), walk rate (4.2 percent), on-base percentage (.309) and slugging percentage (.388) are all career worsts. His wOBA (weighted on-base average) is only .303, and his wRC (weighted runs created) is 94, tied for a career worst.

Yet the year he’s having now is eerily similar to 2009, when he hit a career-high 12 home runs and batted a career-worst .266. The major difference is his plate discipline has trended negatively ever since.

I don’t think this year is an outlier, though. Looking more deeply, Murphy has been hitting way more fly balls than usual, and that is something a hitter can mostly control. His fly ball percentage (FB%) is the second-highest of his career behind — you guessed it — his 2009 season. It’s up to 36.7 percent, from 24.9 percent in 2012 and 31.1 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, his HR/FB rate is right in line with his career mark, indicating they’re not flying out at an unsual rate.

Additionally, Murphy’s attempting more steals, another facet of his game completely in his control. He has successfully stolen one-and-a-half-times more bases than he had attempts last year. That says a lot. He has been plenty successful, too, succeeding in 18 of 21 attempts. He rarely stole in the minors or in his first four seasons, so the bags are certainly a pleasant surprise.

The verdict? I mean, you can’t ignore him if he keep doing next year what he’s doing now. Martin Prado immediately comes to mind as someone who started stealing bases out of the blue (from four steals in 2011 to 17 in 2012) but again suddenly stopped (three in 2013). If he pulls a Prado, he becomes nothing more than a low-end or deep-league option. His batting average is nice, and the potential double-digit power is nice, but the steals are what’s setting him apart right now.

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