2016 has been the year of Daniel Murphy.
Murphy spent the first seven years of his career playing for the New York Mets, where he put together season after season of quality production. The 2015 season was Murphy’s swan-song in Queens, and boy did he go out in style. Murphy’s regular season was stellar, batting .281/.322/.449 with 14 home runs and 73 RBIs — both career highs — in 538 plate appearances. However, it was his postseason performance that really put Murphy on the map.
When people think of memorable postseason performances, they think of Madison Bumgarner‘s inhuman performance in the 2014 playoffs, the image of Curt Schilling‘s bloody sock in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS, Darin Erstad‘s performance during the 2002 World Series, or Don Larsen‘s perfect-game in the 1956 World Series. Murphy’s performance in the 2015 postseason was just another notch in the belt of baseball greatness. Over the span of 14 games, Murphy swung a hot-bat to the tune of a .328/.391/.724 batting line with seven home runs and 11 RBIs, including what would become the series-winning home run off of Clayton Kershaw in a deciding Game 5. Murphy followed up his NLDS performance with a four-game stretch of home runs in the NLCS against the Cubs. For the series, Murphy hit .529/.556/1.294 with four home runs and six RBIs. His hot-bat cooled down during the World Series against the Kansas City Royals, where he hit .150/.320/.150 and was kept off the scoreboard.
That performance played a key part in landing Murphy a three-year, $37.5 million dollar pact with the Washington Nationals. Upon putting his signature on that contract, neither the Nationals nor baseball fans around the world knew what was on the horizon.
What we’re witnessing from Murphy in 2016, is a season for the history books. For starters, not only has Murphy already obliterated his career-highs in home runs and RBIs, but he’s also on pace to set new career-highs in just about every other category. He is far-and-away the best player on the Nationals roster this year, a difficult honor to earn on a team that includes Bryce Harper. Leading the team in every major batting category, Murphy has quietly established himself as a legitimate threat for the NL MVP.
I know, when you look at the NL MVP race, you often think of guys like Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, etc. But, just for reference purposes, let’s compare the four players in question, here.[table "” not found /]
Looking at the above stats, it’s pretty clear to see that Murphy not only belongs in talks for the MVP award, but he deserves serious consideration for the award. Murphy’s batting average currently sits as the best in the National League, and second-best in all of baseball behind Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve — who’s hitting .355, as of August 29. Out of the remaining 14 batting categories, Murphy falls inside the top 10 in eight of them.
Nowadays, the MVP award has become more of a popularity contest, as opposed to the player that is truly most valuable to their team. If your team doesn’t make the postseason, you can pretty much kiss any chance of winning the award goodbye. Arenado knows that all too well. When it comes to the 2016 race, though, it’s a more interesting one. All four players are on teams that are still in the playoff race, although the Colorado Rockies are quickly falling out of contention. Knowing that, it’s a pretty safe (yet unfortunate) to cross Arenado off the list of possible winners. That leaves Murphy, Bryant, and Rizzo.
Digging a little deeper into the stat pool, the three do very little to separate themselves from each other. All three are at the forefront of the majority of sabermetric statistics, with the exception of Win Probability Added. According to FanGraphs, “Win Probability Added (WPA) captures the change in Win Expectancy from one plate appearance to the next, and credits or debits the player based on how much their action increased their team’s odds of winning.” When it comes to WPA, Rizzo (4.2) and Murphy (3.9) top the list, respectively. Meanwhile, Bryant’s nowhere to be found in the top 10. However, if you look at other sabermetric stats such as: RE24 (“Measures the change in run expectancy from the beginning of a player’s plate appearance to the end”), WPA/LI (“Context Neutral Wins”), and REW (“RE24 converted to wins”), you’ll see that all three of Bryant, Rizzo, and Murphy appear quite often.
When considering a possible winner, voters should also take into account the player’s true value to their team. Weigh the effect that a player’s performance has had on their respective team. Bryant (117) and Rizzo (103) — also known as Bryzzo — have combined to create 220 total runs, according to Baseball-Reference. They’ve also combined for 29 game-winning RBIs, according to FOX Sports, with Rizzo tied for the MLB lead with 16 game-winners. Meanwhile, down in Washington, Daniel Murphy has created 110 runs — exactly half of Bryzzo’s amount. He also sits tied with Rizzo and Arenado for the league lead in game-winning RBIs with 16.
In closing, I feel that Daniel Murphy has legitimate claim to the NL MVP award. As I’ve previously stated, though, MVP voting has become more of a popularity contest as of late — something that Nolan Arenado can certainly relate to. Unlike Arenado though, Murphy plays for a team that not only receives a fair amount of national recognition, but they are also in the thick of the playoff race. His level of production is among the best in baseball, and has made it extremely difficult for voters to overlook him. For those reasons, I believe that Daniel Murphy could pull out the surprising upset, and enter the 2017 season as the defending National League MVP.