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2B Profile: Don't overlook Daniel Murphy in 2015

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Murphy isn’t an exciting fantasy option. He doesn’t have a ceiling you can dream about and doesn’t blow you away in any of the categories. Don't overlook him, though. Murphy is very solid, and he’s a good bet to finish in the top 120 with an outside chance to finish in the top 100.

Murphy has seen a strong rise in fantasy value in recent years. In 2013 and 2014, Murphy saw a significant uptick in runs scored, stolen bases and home runs:

Season

HR

R

SB

2014

9

79

13

2013

13

92

23

2012

6

62

10

2011

6

49

5

Murphy’s increase in fantasy value the last two years is largely because of that.

So what is funneling the increase in runs scored, stolen bases and HR?

Hitting at the top of the lineup

Murphy began batting at the top of the Mets lineup significantly more often beginning in 2013. Specifically, the Mets primarily slotted him second in the order.

Season

# of at bats hitting second

2014

489

2013

480

2012

285

2011

86

Batting second in the lineup puts Murphy in position to be on base when the team’s best hitters come to the plate, giving him a better chance to score runs. It also gives him better clearance on the base paths to steal bases because slower, middle of the order hitters aren’t clogging up the bases ahead of him.

Improved base running

Murphy has significantly improved his base running under Mets coaches Terry Collins, Tom Goodwin and Tim Teufel. Murphy has been more aggressive on the base paths, squeezing out as much value as he can by taking extra bases.

Here’s Murphy’s Ultimate Base Running (UBR) since 2011, via FanGraphs:

Season

UBR

2014

3.6

2013

3.6

2012

0.5

2011

0.8

Murphy’s UBR was 17th best in baseball in 2014, according to FanGraphs.

Marc Carig of Newsday shed light on the Mets conscious effort to improve their baserunning in 2013. Carig wrote,

The aggressive approach has worked more often than not for the Mets, who are statistically the best baserunning team in baseball.

"It's been great, absolutely great," said Mets manager Terry Collins, long a proponent of aggressive baserunning. "Look at the numbers. We lead all of baseball in taking extra bases. I attribute that to the fact that my third-base coach is extremely aggressive, forces people to make plays, forces other teams to make plays. We've scored a lot of runs, which has kept us in games and helped us win games."

Baserunning accounts for a relatively small portion of a team's offensive output. But when it's done well, that advantage can be magnified, as has been the case with the Mets.

Entering Saturday night, the Mets had taken the extra base at a 48-percent clip, the highest in baseball and well above the MLB average of 40 percent.

Meanwhile, according to FanGraphs, the Mets' aggressive baserunning and base-stealing has accounted for a net gain of 15.5 runs this season, which translates into more than a full win in the standings.

No team in baseball has extracted more on the basepaths than the Mets. Compared with last season, the improvement is stunning.

Swing change

Murphy has also seen a small uptick in power. He changed his swing prior to the 2013 season in an attempt to hit for more power:

"I’ve been trying to gain a little bit more leverage against the ball, so I’m putting my lead foot in the ground more and face it toward home plate," Murphy said after his workout, which included fielding 30-35 ground balls at second base.

The slightly new swing is something he began working on in December after watching players as different as Chase Utley and Miguel Cabrera use the stance. He spent most of the offseason working with his brother Jonathan, an outfielder in the Twins’ farm system, trying to perfect it.

The idea, as the examples of Utley and Cabrera would suggest, is to find more power.

"I think I’m hitting the ball with more authority, especially to the middle of the field," Murphy said. "It allows me to stay on the ball longer and the desire is to turn singles into doubles and maybe doubles into home runs."

Murphy in 2015

The good about drafting Murphy in 2015 is that you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Murphy combines a significantly above average batting average with an above average OPS, good run scoring totals and double digit stolen bases. Murphy’s .289 batting average was 24th best in baseball in 2014 and his 110 wRC+ was 7th best amongst qualified second basemen last season. Compare this to a 2B like Kolten Wong, who is going a few picks before Murphy in Yahoo leagues. Wong has more upside, but he also carries more risk.

The Mets will likely have a better offense in 2015 than they have had in recent years. For starters, they’ve moved the RF fences in about 5-10 feet, which will moderately help in home runs. According to Marc Carig, Curtis Granderson would have had 9 more home runs last year under the new outfield dimensions:

There's a good chance David Wright will return to being a productive hitter after recovering from shoulder issues last year. They signed Michael Cuddyer, who is a productive hitter when he plays, and Travis d’Arnaud’s development at the plate was strong after being demoted to AAA last season. Having better hitters in the lineup behind Murphy increases the chances of Murphy scoring runs when he gets on base.

I like Murphy as a fantasy option in 2015. A fantasy line of about 85 R, 10 HR, 60 RBI, 10 SB and a .290 BA is very attainable, and Murphy won't cost a fortune on draft day.