In their first 11 years as an organization, the Washington Nationals’ history with second basemen has been bleak to say the least. After the addition of Daniel Murphy last December on a three-year deal, it’s safe to say the club has finally found the type of player to fill a big need.
Over his six full-time seasons in the big leagues, Murphy has hit below .270 just once, his rookie year in 2009 where he finished at a .266 clip. Since then, he has done nothing but produce, topping .281 each year.
Murphy earned a pay raise after a breakout 2015 season, a campaign which put his name alongside the game’s elites. He was one of 13 players to post 140 hits, 37 doubles, 13 home runs and 72 RBI. In addition, Murphy was just one of two second basemen to reach those numbers, the other being Brian Dozier.
Now, let’s take a look at why the Nationals decided to make a run at Murphy. After three years of Jose Vidro or Ronnie Belliard manning the four spot on the diamond, it’s been downhill since the inception of the franchise.
2015: Danny Espinosa (.240)
2014: Danny Espinosa (.219)
2013: Anthony Rendon (.265)
2012: Danny Espinosa (.247)
2011: Danny Espinosa (.236)
2010: Adam Kennedy (.249)
2009: Anderson Hernandez (.251)
2008: Felipe Lopez (.234)
2007: Ronnie Belliard (.290)
2006: Jose Vidro (.289)
2005: Jose Vidro (.275)
An unimpressive group, and it could be worse if you include players who briefly filled in, like Dan Uggla.
One week into his Nats career, Murphy has showcased his offensive ability similar to the 2015 postseason. Four of his eight hits have gone for extra bases, including two big flies and seven RBI while batting in the middle of the order. Dusty Baker currently has Murphy slotted fifth in the lineup, although batting Murphy second would allow him to see more pitches like this in front of Bryce Harper.
Maybe don’t throw letter high heaters to this guy? Murphy is batting .455 against four seamers this year, and simply doesn’t miss them, with a whiff percentage of only 3.1.
In addition, Murphy has yet to make a fielding mistake this season, helping solidify a Washington defense which has combined to commit only one error. With Ryan Zimmerman shifting to first base full-time, allowing Rendon to stay at third and Espinosa replacing the dreadful fielder Ian Desmond at shortstop, the Nationals are on the verge of being one of the top defensive teams in the league. The World Series last November helped expose some of Murphy’s flaws as a defender, but over the course of a full season, he will make almost all of the plays expected of a league-average second baseman.
Despite Murphy’s age of 31 years old, the Nationals are better suited for a playoff run than in previous years. In 2016, Murphy will be the ninth-highest paid second baseman at $8 million base, a bargain if he records statistics similar to his final season in New York. After a few seasons spent as a contact hitter, minor swing adjustments have helped Murphy consistently get the ball in the air and tap into his power. Combined with the fact that he is still one of the hardest hitters in the league to strike out, Daniel Murphy could prove to be the final piece the Nationals have been waiting on to push them over the top in the postseason.