Who Could Play Second Base in 2012?

Justin Turner took his turn as the Mets’ defensive goat last night, making the latest soul-crushing, late game misplay of the week. With the bases loaded in the ninth and the Mets clinging to a one-run lead, Turner fielded a soft ground ball, and looking to turn two, threw the ball to regular first basemen Daniel Murphy, who at that point was in the dugout with the night off. Two runs scored on the error, the Mets got no outs, and they lost another heartbreaker — a much better song than way to lose — their third such game in a row. These sort of losses hurt, but at least this Mets team is compelling enough to make them hurt, something that hasn’t always been true.

Anyway, at this point Justin Turner has more or less become the regular second baseman, starting 25 of the Mets’ last 28 games at the position, with Willie Harris stealing a few starts here and there. But I think it’s worth asking if Turner is the Mets’ best option the rest of the way, or if running Daniel Murphy at second base on occasion makes more sense. That position isn’t necessarily settled for next year the way first base would be settled with a healthy Ike Davis, so if Turner or Murphy has a starting role with the 2012 Mets, it’s probably going to be at second base. And it might be worth Terry Collins and the Mensa gang figuring out which one is the better option.

Offensively, it’s not all that close this season:

Daniel Murphy: 413 plate appearances, .319/.361/.450, 28 doubles, 6 home runs
Justin Turner: 332 plate appearances, .272/.332/.358, 20 doubles, 2 home runs

Murphy is outhitting Turner by a sizable margin in every meaningful category. You can argue that Murphy’s line is batting average driven — and it is — but neither player strikes out or walks all that often, so both their lines are batting average driven, and Murphy holds an advantage in power. I don’t see a compelling argument for Turner over Murphy offensively.

Which means that the only argument for Turner would be defensively. First the traditional numbers:

Murphy: 168 innings, 55 assists, 36 putouts, 2 errors, 5 double plays, .978 fielding percentage
Turner: 375 innings, 120 assists, 82 putouts, 6 errors, 18 double plays, .971 fielding percentage

On an inning per inning basis, Murphy and Turner get to a nearly identical number of balls, with Turner being involved in more double plays and Murphy making fewer errors. But that’s a fairly small number of innings for both. The advanced defensive numbers are similarly inconclusive:

Murphy: -3 defensive runs saved, 1.8 UZR
Turner: -6 defensive runs saved, -2.6 UZR

Turner has cost double the runs by defensive runs saved (DRS), but he’s played more than twice as many innings. So on an innings per inning basis, Turner is the better second baseman by DRS’s count, Murphy the better fielder by UZR’s. Small sample size again though. It’s hard to tell the better fielder by the numbers, making this more a question for the eyes. And, based on my eyes, I don’t really want to see the ball hit to either of them.

But here’s the thing: In 1120 major league plate appearances, Daniel Murphy has created 143 runs, and in 372 major league plate appearances, Justin Turner has created 36 runs. Per 600 trips to the plate, Murphy would create 77 runs and Turner would create 58 runs. So the question isn’t, “Is Justin Turner a better defensive second baseman than Daniel Murphy?”, but, “Is Justin Turner 19 runs better defensively at second base than Daniel Murphy?” Even if you cut the difference in half, thinking Murphy won’t hit as well and Turner will improve with his bat . . . it’s still a nine run difference that would need to be made up on defense.

The difference between a Gold Glover and Luis Castillo is about 20 runs per season. The difference between an average defender and Luis Castillo is about 10 runs. Turner has looked average, at best, so the question is really if Daniel Murphy will field worse than Luis Castillo at second base. Is there at least a nine run difference in the field between Murphy and Turner to make up for the difference with the bat?

I don’t know. It’s difficult to say because Murphy hasn’t started a game at second base in nearly three months, and has played just one inning there since May 10. Maybe the Mets didn’t like what they saw, but with pesky slap-hitter Jason Bay in left field, Ike Davis at first base, and Lucas Duda possibly at both next year, Murphy’s future with the Mets is going to be second or bust. Or DH, if any sort of weird realignment were to take place in the immediate future. But probably second base.

I don’t necessarily disagree with what the Mets are doing right now: Playing Murphy at first base for the final few months allows the Mets to keep Turner, Duda, and Murphy in the same lineup, seeing what all three young players can do offensively for the team. And that has real value this season and beyond. On the other hand, for the sake of 2012, it might be more valuable to see what Murphy can do defensively at second a little bit more. I don’t know if he’s the answer, but it’s probably worth taking the time to find out.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Who Could Play Second Base in 2012?

  1. How about Joshua Satin? He’s essentialy Murphy offensively and a natural second baseman like Turner. He can play every base as well. I know he’s never been any scouts golden boy, but it’s hard to contest that his numbers haven’t earned him a call up, and though he’s 26 so are the other two…what have we got to lose?

    • Patrick Flood

      He’s batting .329 in the minors this season, but he’s also striking out in 23% of his plate appearances. Michael Morse and Matt Kemp are the only players in the majors this season striking out that often and batting over .300. So it’s really hard to do, and a lot of Satin’s value comes from his average. He’s got a good number of walks and a good number of doubles, but if you pop his Double-A numbers into the MLE calculator, his major league line is .242/.325/.385.

      But if he hits his way out of Triple-A, why not give him a look, right? I’m with you on that.

      • the MLE calculator eh? I’m not sure how I feel about that. The kid has a .422 OBP and if the K’s are a byproduct of the 52 extra base hits, so be it. I don’t have access to his spray chart or anything so I’d be very curious to see how his game plays out at Citi. I think we lost time already this year with preconceived notions about second base; time to flush things out in Flushing, now that 2011 is no longer a concern.

      • Patrick Flood

        The problem with the strikeouts is that they’re going to go up as he moves to Triple-A and then the Majors. The pitchers are better, they’ll exploit his weaknesses more, and he’ll strike out more often. And it’s difficult to put up a high batting average striking out 25% of the time. I think it’s worth seeing how he plays in Triple-A — and the result are good so far — and then consider Satin as an option at second in 2012.

      • Yeah, I always wonder about the accuracy of MLE chart. Some guys come up and hit better in the pros than they do at AAA. I’d like to at least see Satin as a bench bat over Harris or Pridie, since they are redundant.

      • Patrick Flood

        Park factors play a large role as well — I think Binghamton is a slight hitter’s park, as is Buffalo. The Eastern and International leagues themselves have a pitcher/hitter balance similar to the majors, but the Mets affiliate’s parks lean hitter, particularly when compared to Citi Field.

  2. This is a tough debate. I think Murphy’s fundamental mistakes running the bases and playing the field that do not show up on the stat sheet narrow the difference between him and turner a bit. However, I think we need to see Murphy a lot more at second to decide if he is worth it. But also rember he’s only In his second full season so who knows how many of his mistakes are correctable and how much his bat will improve (hopefully). Tough call but I would rather see murphy get the look next year at second.

  3. I think the mets long term plan at second depends on Reyes. If he signs back up I think they will look real hard at Tejada at second since he is heads above anyone else on defense. My thought is Murp is too good offensively to platoon or use as a part time player with his defensive shortcomings I believe the mets should look at trying to see what they could get for him on the trade market. I dont know if his value is going to be any higher than it is right now. If there is a chance we can get a good piece in exchange especially with an AL team its a deal I think we should make.

    • Patrick Flood

      I think you’re right here. Murphy’s value is going to be high after this season and the Mets should see what they can get for him. Plus, I don’t think he’s a legit .320 hitter. I think he can hit .280-.290 with some consistency, but if the Mets can sell him to some other team as a .320 guy, they should pull the trigger.

  4. I don’t think that Murphy should be in any long term plans for the Mets. If anything he could be a DH in the American League.

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