With another big year at plate, Murphy proved he’s the real deal

As we transition into offseason mode here, we’re reviewing each significant player on the Nationals roster. We continue today with Daniel Murphy, who picked up right where he left off in 2016 and kept producing at the plate in 2017.

PLAYER REVIEW: DANIEL MURPHY

Age on opening day 2018: 33

How acquired: Signed as free agent, December 2016

MLB service time: 8 years, 109 days

2017 salary: $12 million

Contract status: Signed for $17.5 million in 2018 ($5.5 million deferred until 2019-2020). Free agent in 2019.

2017 stats: 144 G, 593 PA, 534 AB, 94 R, 172 H, 43 2B, 3 3B, 23 HR, 93 RBI, 2 SB, 0 CS, 52 BB, 77 SO, .322 AVG, .384 OBP, .543 SLG, .928 OPS, -15 DRS, 4.3 WAR

Quotable: “I try to get a good pitch to hit, put a good swing on it. That’s pretty much the goal 600 times.” - Murphy

2017 analysis: Murphy wasn’t as good this season as he was last season. But he was awfully close. Really, the only differences from 2016 to 2017 were a few less hits, some more walks and some more strikeouts. Otherwise, the numbers looked awfully familiar.

murphy-nlds-workout-sidebar.jpgMurphy became a bit more patient at the plate this season, seeing a career-high 3.75 pitches per at-bat. He swung and missed at a career-high rate (10.2 percent), as well. But he still remains committed to his overall offensive plan: Get a pitch in the zone he wants, then put a good swing on it and hit the ball in the air. It’s a formula he has refined over the last three seasons to become one of the best and most consistent offensive players in baseball.

Murphy was recognized for his efforts with his first All-Star fan selection, joining Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper in the starting lineup in Miami in July. Defensively, Murphy remains subpar. Among the 16 big league second basemen with enough innings to qualify, he ranked last in Defensive Runs Saved and 14th in FanGraphs’ overall defensive metric. To his credit, he makes the vast majority of routine plays. He just doesn’t have the skills to make more than a handful of plays that fall beyond the “routine” description.

2018 outlook: It seems pretty safe at this point to say this is who Murphy is. He’s an elite offensive player who is a doubles machine (he’s led the league each of the last two seasons) with the ability to hit 20 to 25 balls out of the park and maintain a batting average well over .300. In the field, he’s going to continue to be a liability, but his offensive contributions far outweigh his defensive drawbacks, so he continues to be worth it.

Here’s something Murphy doesn’t get enough credit for: durability. Yes, he occasionally deals with tired legs and has to sit for a few days to get back into shape. But he has played in an average of 146 games in each of the last six seasons, and that’s an awfully valuable quality these days when so many big-name players miss significant time due to injury.

Murphy will play the 2018 season with the specter of free agency looming. Would the Nationals consider trying to negotiate an extension with him this winter? As great as he’s been, he’ll be 34 come opening day 2019, and you have to believe he’ll be even more of a defensive liability at that point. In all likelihood, the Nats will hope to get one more All-Star season out of Murphy and then let him walk.

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