After a wonderful debut last year with the Washington Nationals, what can Daniel Murphy do as an encore? Expect more good things.
His 47 doubles led the league along with a .595 slugging percentage and .985 OPS. In his second season in DC, how does Murphy match it?
Although he may not hit 25 home runs again, as he did last season, Murphy’s fundamentals are solid enough he should come close. Wedged in the middle of a powerful lineup, he will drive in runs and earn his share of extra-base hits. In a sport full of 100-plus strikeout hitters, he fanned 57 times in 582 plate appearances in 2016.
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Whether he hits between Trea Turner and Bryce Harper or protects Anthony Rendon this year, Murphy’s ability to wear down pitchers to make mistakes is why he is a dangerous hitter. It takes hard work and patience to learn how to layoff pitches, a trait he excels at.
In 2013, Murphy fanned a career-high 95 times with the New York Mets. He still hit .286 with 38 doubles and four triples. As he cut down on the strikeouts, it did not lead to more walks, but better contact.
The big difference between his days with the Mets and now with the Nationals, aside from getting a hit against his old club in every game last year, is the quality of the lineup. As we start 2017, Washington’s offense is better than last.
Before 2016, Murphy’s RBI high was 78 in 2013. Last year, he drove in 104. Sure, RBI is an imperfect stat in a world that can measure how well you did after eating pizza on a Friday night after a full moon. Still, the object of the game is to score more runs than the other team. His 88 runs scored was the highest since 2013.
Aside from staying healthy—remember, he injured his glutes sliding in Atlanta late last season—Murphy’s approach to hitting is crucial to Washington’s success. However, the lineup is stacked come April, and he offers immediate protection for whoever hits in front and behind him.
With his ability to hit doubles, and the speed of Turner and Adam Eaton higher in the batting order, Murphy’s run creation may increase this year. Projections at FanGraphs are not as bullish this year, but they still think he can hit around 40 doubles and 14-16 home runs. With runners on base that is a fair amount of chances to break games open.
Murphy meshed well his first year in DC with fans and teammates alike. A part of the Mets 2015 pennant winning squad, he also knows how to get to the next level. What the next two seasons are all about in Washington.