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Fantasy Outlook: Daniel Murphy

Fantasy Outlook: Daniel Murphy
Daniel Murphy

Daniel Murphy has transformed his approach at the plate over the last two seasons

Daniel Murphy has never hit more than 14 home runs in a season, so when the Nationals inked him to a three-year, $37.5 million deal, it begged the following query; would Washington be getting the steady contact hitter the Mets witnessed for the duration of his New York tenure or the Ruthian-esque bopper who channeled the immortal baseball titans during his classic postseason run last year? Well, about seven weeks into the season it has been the latter – resoundingly. He is on pace to shatter his previous career high in home runs this season in the Nation’s Capitol, nearly eclipsing the seismic start to the year that teammate and reigning MVP Bryce Harper had embarked on until recently. We’re almost two full months into the 2016 campaign and Murphy is hitting .390. Actually, he was still hitting .400 roughly six weeks into the season which was the longest someone has hit to that average into the start of one season in six years.

Slugging homers in an MLB-record six consecutive games last year, his seven home runs in his first nine playoff games last season were completely out of character for the modest power-hitting veteran. Consider that while he launched seven long balls in 38 at-bats in the postseason, it took him 46 games to hit his last seven home runs of the regular season.

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What was the linchpin that jettisoned “Murph” from old reliable to Ted Williams (at least for the short term)? The major difference occurred towards the end of his final Mets’ regular season campaign last year when the team’s hitting coach, Kevin Long, and assistant hitting coach, Pat Roessler, advised him to develop a more crouched stance to help generate more power in his swing. Not only did this help him sport a more formidable base at the plate, but he also managed to produce more upward tilt to the ball. The result was his stunning transformation from a renowned doubles hitter into the modern day Reggie Jackson come the 2015 playoffs.

Yet, it doesn’t stop there. Murphy was also being more aggressive at the plate, perhaps because he had recent import Yoenis Cespedes hitting behind him which paved the way for more appealing pitches coming his way. Likewise, Murphy finds himself slotted directly in front of 23-year-old basher Bryce Harper this season and has continued his baseball wreckage in scintillating fashion. His new-found aggressiveness has also propelled him to pull more balls than ever this year. The influx of hitter-friendly pitches led Murphy to be more aggressive at the plate, frequently attacking pitches early in the count and pulling them for substantial power results. His 26% ground ball rate is by far the lowest of his career while his 44% fly ball rate is by far the highest of his MLB tenure, according to FanGraphs.

Starting with Murphy’s first full season in 2009, he has more or less been hitting in the two hole ahead of David Wright. While Wright certainly enjoyed some All-Star seasons hitting behind Murphy, he was never quite known as a fearsome power hitter but rather an All-Star caliber threat with solid power. Last year, manager Terry Collins flip-flopped Murphy and Wright in the order to satisfy his plan for a more lefty-righty-lefty alignment. The result was Murphy hitting third with new arrival Yoenis Cespedes planted right behind him. With the way Cespedes steamrolled through the league after arriving in New York, that was better protection than the Secret Service could provide.

Well, in the 106 combined games in which Murphy has hit in front of either Cespedes or Harper, the former All-Star produced 22 homers and 77 RBI which would equate to 30-plus homers and 110 plus RBI over a full season. That isn’t too shabby for a guy who was averaging nine home runs in the five full seasons of his career coming into this campaign. While his power numbers have been augmented, remember that the former Met is coming off a year in which he led the National League in strikeout to at-bat ratio at 13.1 and finds himself third in that category this year even with the increased power.

Facing the Cardinals and Phillies this upcoming week, Murphy has hit over .300 in his career against both squads, and he will also host his former team whom he just homered against this past week in his return to Citi Field. Moreover, Murphy is hitting almost .430 in his last 13 contests. While Murph certainly doesn’t have the pedigree to suggest that his near .400 average can be sustained over an entire season, expect a very solid, high average and 20-homer season out of the 31-year-old. The Mets can thank their lucky stars that Murphy’s replacement, Neil Walker, has 10 home runs so far, or the jeers from the Citi Field Faithful would be growing more raucous by the minute.

If there’s one cause for concern one should be wary of going forward, it’s the veteran’s defensive inefficiencies. While he typically can be counted on to make the routine play, his lack of fluidity, lateral movement and natural athleticism can hurt a team at the most inopportune times (see World Series Game 4). While the veteran is known by his peers to be a punctilious worker and has improved his range and mobility defensively over the years (he came up to the league as a third baseman), he has peaked in the field. What you see is what you get at this point.

Regardless, the seven-year veteran is certainly an impact player and a new player, by many accounts.

Anthony Castellano is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Anthony, check out his archive and follow him @AcasNY23.

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