The Daniel Murphy bandwagon is a lonely place these days.  But I am not going to let 182 PA overshadow 430 PA in determining his ability to hit.

In the lost season that is 2009, the Mets have a chance to do some things to find out about players who can help in the future. Bobby Parnell is getting an extended look as a starting pitcher. Josh Thole got a promotion from Double-A and is going to get a chance to catch quite a few games the last few weeks of the season. Angel Pagan has gotten a chance to play every day and displayed enough that it will not be horrible if he opens as a starting outfielder in 2010.

And Daniel Murphy has gotten regular playing time despite being one of the worst players in baseball over a two-month stretch.

By now most Mets fans have made up their mind on Murphy and have determined that he is not a starting-caliber player. Apparently, he is not good enough defensively to play the outfield, his primary position of third base is not available on this team, his bat is not big enough for first base and management refuses to give him any time at second, where his overall skills might play best.

So, do the Mets look at him as their starter at first base in 2010 or do they look to turn him into a Chone Figgins type and make him a super sub?

Of the 27 qualified first baseman, Murphy ranks 26th with a .710 OPS. Only five of those 27 players check in with an OPS under .800 and Lance Berkman sits in the middle with a .900 OPS. No matter what metric you prefer, Murphy is going to bring up the rear of qualified first basemen. He is next to last in wOBA, last in wRC and next to last in wRAA.

Clearly, it is going to be a gamble if the Mets make Murphy their starting first baseman in 2010. They will need strong comeback seasons from Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, along with importing another big bat in the outfield, to make up for the lost production at first base.

But Murphy has also displayed enough this year to be given valuable at-bats somewhere in 2010. Those down on Murphy like to point out that too much was made by his supporters of his 151 plate appearances in 2008. If that logic is acceptable, I would like to point out that too much is being made of 182 PA in 2009.

Here are Murphy’s major league numbers, broken up into cherry-picked time samples.

2008, 151 PA, .313/.397/.473
2009, 108 PA, .298/.364/.457
2009, 182 PA, .204/.272/.290
2009, 171 PA, .294/.324/.469

From May 11th to July 19th, Murphy was terrible. He was awful, he was revolting, he was an affront to good ball playing and was a disgrace to the Mets uniform. It was also a total of 58 games and 39 starts.

So, in Murphy’s brief career in the majors, we have 182 consecutive PA which say that he is not worthy of a roster spot. We also have 430 PA which say he is a pretty good hitter.

Taking out the 182 PA from May 11th-July 19th, Murphy’s MLB numbers look like this:

430 PA – .307/.360/.476

Now, we cannot just ignore 182 PA, even if they are consecutive and even if they are completely out of character with what Murphy has done in the rest of his major league career.

But I do believe that the 430 PA are more indicative of the type of hitter that Murphy is than the 182 PA he suffered through in the middle of 2009. We should remember that Murphy’s cold streak coincided with the beginning of the Mets’ injury parade and his shift over to first base.

That could be nothing but a coincidence but it seems unwise to think that a young player would not feel the pressures of having to step up once players like Reyes and Carlos Delgado were subtracted from the lineup. Regardless, it should be viewed as a good sign that Murphy has returned to the level of a solid hitter in virtually the same number of PA that his cold streak lasted.

Ideally, the Mets will have a bigger bat than Murphy to play first base in 2010. But we all know how limited the team’s funds are in the wake of the Madoff losses and it is far from a sure thing that money will be spent at first base in the off-season. And if Murphy ends up as the regular in 2010 it is not necessarily the worst thing in the world for the club, providing he can avoid a two-month slump.

At the beginning of the season, I made two wagers regarding Murphy. The first one was that he would end the year with an OPS above .775 and it appears that I am going to lose that one. On July 19th, his OPS was .658 and after games of September 3rd, it sits at .710 for the season.

My other play was that Murphy would finish with 450 at-bats and that one looks like a win. He has 416 at-bats currently and should be able to pick up 34 more in the final 28 games of the season.

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