How likely is a starting outfielder to amass 450 at-bats in a season?  Last year in the National League it happened just 57 percent of the time.  Can Daniel Murphy be counted on to exceed that mark if he stays injury-free?

As many of you know, I have been bullish on the chances of Daniel Murphy in 2009.  I was reading a discussion board last night and while the topic was Gary Sheffield, the talk also included Murphy.  One of the posters was particularly pessimistic about his chances and in a reply to somebody else, wrote this:

I claim Mets fans are delusional about Danny Boy. Lets wager. I betcha whatever you want that he doesn’t crack a .775 OPS if he gets any signifigant playing time.

Now this was not directed at me, but I thought I would take the bait and responded back, agreeing to the bet with a minimum playing time of 450 at-bats.  It is unlikely he reaches that threshold unless he keeps a full-time job for most of the year.

I was feeling pretty good about the wager until another person told me that it was unlikely that Murphy would get 450 at-bats.  And the issue here is that this second person, Mr. Chris Dial, is a very bright guy who also happens to be a Mets fan.

Now, a smart person might have said something like “you’re right” or another thing to back away from the ledge.  But instead I dug in and asked him why he was so pessimistic about Murphy.  Dial responded:

“Because he doesn’t have any experience? Teams historically pull young players that struggle at all. 450 is a lot of PAs. Now, there were 28 (of 48) NL OFs that got 450 ABs last year, but most of them didn’t walk as much as I expect Murphy too. So, the starting point for Murphy getting 450 ABs is about 57% chance, just as a OF. Then you add in the platoon and youth factors, and a higher walk rate, and I don’t see him reaching 450. He certainly could, but I think that’s very optimistic, not that less than that is pessimistic.”

At first it was a sobering reality that only 57 percent of the top 48 outfielders in the NL cleared the 450 at-bat threshold last year.  This is also a fairly stable number.  In the previous five seasons, the total outfielders in the NL to top 450 ABs in a year ranged from 27-32.

But once I started examining the list from Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index, I started to feel better again.  People failed to clear the line because of injuries, suspensions, trades and late ascension to starting roles, in addition to being platooned.

Here is the list of NL outfielders ranked 29-48 last year in at-bats:

Mike Cameron – suspended and missed most of April

Carlos Lee – injured and missed from August 10th thru end of season

Gregor Blanco – Played FT between May-August.  April and September PT was less

Jayson Werth – Platoon player whose role grew as season went on.

Rick Ankiel – Missed time with shoulder, knee and abdominal injuries.

Jay Bruce – Called up from minors in late May

Jason Bay – Traded to AL in end of July

Juan Pierre – started year as 4th OF

Willie Harris – started year as 4th or 5th OF

Corey Patterson – Platoon player

Ken Griffey – Traded to AL in end of July

Justin Upton – Oblique injury

Josh Willingham – Back injury

Luis Gonzalez – Reserve OF who got lots of PT in May and June

Jim Edmonds – Released and platooned

Reed Johnson – Platoon player

Chase Headley – Called up from minors in mid-June

Jody Gerut – Platoon player

Xavier Nady – Traded to AL in late July

Scott Hairston – Platoon player

There’s nothing that can be done if Murphy gets injured.  But he’s going to start the year in the majors and is unlikely to be traded or suspended.  Only a half a dozen of these 20 players failed to reach 450 at-bats because of being platooned.

Let’s look at this another way.  Of those NL outfielders who started on Opening Day, 13 did not finish among the top 48 OF in at-bats.  Is there anything we can learn from them that would apply to Murphy?

Matt Diaz – knee injury

Mark Kotsay – back injury – traded to AL

Elijah Dukes – hamstring, knee and calf injuries

Austin Kearns – elbow and foot injuries

Tony Gwynn – fill in while Cameron suspended

Felix Pie – platooned and didn’t hit

Eric Byrnes – hamstring injury

Angel Pagan – shoulder injury

Ryan Church – concussions

Dave Roberts – left knee injury

Andruw Jones – injuries to both knees

Paul McAnulty – platoon OF

Chris Duncan – hamstring and neck injuries

Of the 13 outfielders that started Opening Day for their teams and didn’t wind up among the top 48 in at-bats, only Pie and McAnulty were in a somewhat similar situation to Murphy.  Last year was the fourth partial year in the majors for McAnulty, whose ceiling is undoubtedly a platoon player. Pie has been a highly-rated prospect who has struggled in two stints in the majors.

Now, this all got started because of the Mets’ acquisition of Gary Sheffield and the worries that in order to justify his presence on the roster that the Mets would look to give him as many at-bats as possible.  But I was not initially worried because manager Jerry Manuel has differed from his predecessors by not having a major fetish for veterans.  And a report in Saturday’s New York Post has me even less concerned about Murphy losing playing time.

Beat writer Bart Hubbuch wrote, “Jerry Manuel plans to use Sheffield primarily in right field, which means less playing time for Ryan Church and Church’s backup, Fernando Tatis. Manuel added that Sheffield won’t be an immediate presence. Sheffield will need at least several days to get into outfield playing shape after spending the past two years as a DH.”

So, in my mind it still comes down to production.  Is Murphy going to hit enough to keep the job for the entire season?  It seems like Manuel is in his corner and Murphy’s fate rests in his own hands.

And that’s a wager I’m willing to make.

Advertisements