The Nats just acquired free agent Daniel Murphy, and it’s certainly an interesting addition for the team. First, it appears to take away the Danny Espinosa – Trea Turner infield I was hoping for, but that’s understandable. Neither guy is proven, although both showed great promise in 2015.
What Murphy Brings – Good and Bad
Murphy is a good hitter, especially for a 2B. He’s a top 10 offensive player at the position, and he hits lefty, and lefty hitters are something the Nats are in desperate need of adding. He’s also only going to be 31 next season, so a 3 year deal shouldn’t see much, if any, of a decline in his offensive capabilities.
For his career, Murphy is a .294/.341/.442 hitter against RHPs, which isn’t just good for a middle infielder, it’s great. It’s pretty darn good for a non-middle infielder, too. His career .271/.303/.371 vs LHPs isn’t so good, though. Last season the splits were more extreme, worse vs LHPs and better vs RHPs, in 2014 they went the other way. His bat should be helpful versus righties, he may be one of the top hitters against them, while he will be one of the worst on the team versus lefties.
As for defense, there is little argument that he is a good defensive second baseman. In fact, most metrics show that he is just plain bad. He gets to play because of his bat, not because of his glove, and nothing different should be expected.
The Nats were an inconsistent offensive team last season, but scoring runs wasn’t really their problem. They ranked 3rd in the NL in runs scored, behind only Colorado (of course) and Arizona. Their real problems were on the runs allowed side. They ranked 7th there, and we know one of the big issues was the bullpen. Hopefully, that has been remedied, at least somewhat, even if the moves aren’t done there.
But the other issue was defense. Desmond was at times solid and at time spotty, and Anthony Rendon spent his healthy time playing out of position, while Escobar was just plain bad at 3B. The team was just not impressive defensively, and that is a place where they could improve pretty easily, with health and using guys properly.
The Best Way to Use Murphy
Murphy will most likely be named the starting second baseman, with Espinosa playing shortstop unless Turner just kills it in spring training. At some point, Turner will come up, and you might see an Espinosa-Murphy platoon at second base. At least, if they go this route, you really should see an Espi-Murphy platoon at some point, because both kill opposite hand pitching and are suspect against same-side stuff.
Ideally, Murphy’s bat should be in the lineup. But instead of naming him at the starting shortstop, maybe the best way to do it is to use him as a supersub. A subpar fielder usually isn’t what you use as a supersub, but it may be perfect for him. The Nats have three players that have been pretty injury prone recently in Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon. But those three guys are all pretty important to keeping the offense running.
It would be possible to give Murphy the ABs he should get, while resting the guys who they worry about getting hit with the injury bug, and keeping the defense pretty solid. If they rest Werth, Zim and Rendon once a week each, and fill in with Murphy, and then only use him once or twice a week at 2B, that gets him in almost every day. Sit him against tough lefties (which the ought to do anyway) and that gets you to the six games that you usually get in a week.
Obviously if Turner or Espinosa go on extended slumps, they could adjust this plan accordingly. It might be ideal for the team, but it might not be ideal for any of the individual players, especially Murphy who would have to rotate around the field. It takes some compromise from the whole lineup, but hopefully they have just the kind of manager that can get the guys to embrace this kind of idea.