In 2014, through almost half a season, Mets second basemen, led by Daniel Murphy have created the fifth most value at the position in baseball (2.2 fWAR). It is the only position where the Mets rank in the top ten as a group.
Murphy has bought into the Mets’ approach and it has led to one of his most productive seasons. Coming into 2014, the 29-year-old had a career MLB walk rate of 6.1 percent, but has bumped that up to 8.2 percent this year. If he can maintain it, his 119 wRC+ (a rate-based measure of offensive production based on wOBA, but scaled to 100) would be his second-best over a full MLB season, trailing only 2011’s 126 mark in 109 games.
And yet, Murphy’s days for New York could be numbered (for a team still watching their pennies and currently sitting five games under .500). Murphy is making $5.8 million this season, and will go through arbitration one more time this winter, and likely earn about $8 million in 2015, before becoming a free agent after this season. His value is unlikely to be much higher than it is now. Asked at a season ticket holder event to guarantee that the Mets would not trade Murphy, General Manager Sandy Alderson would not, instead suggesting partaking in a cold beer after work and avoiding Twitter. The Blue Jays and Giants, two teams the Mets have completed significant trades with under Alderson, have both begun scouting Murphy carefully.
Importantly, the Mets might have a Murphy replacement, who just reached Double-A: 20-year-old Dilson Herrera.
Herrera just keeps improving. He graduated from the advanced Single-A Florida State League at the end of the first half after hitting .307/.355/.410. His OPS and isolated slugging rose in every month from April to June.
In discussing his 2014, Herrera, as translated by teammate Xorge Carillo, told MMiLB, “Right now, things are going the right way thanks to the hard work … Very thrilled with what’s going on.”
He should be.
There are two sides to hitting: the mental and physical. Herrera credits advanced Single-A hitting coach Joel Fuentes with boosting the mental side of his approach first. His advice for Herrera: “Be positive all the time, and just battle every at bat.”
Fuentes and Herrera also made a modest mechanical tweak, eliminating Herrera’s leg kick that he used to trigger his swing. Actually, his old leg kick had two taps, a consolidation and then a stride, illustrated nicely in this video. Fuentes noticed that Herrera would sometimes be late with his stride, which created a bad cascade through his swing. So, the two, Herrera and Fuentes went to work, everyday, bit by bit to say bye-bye to the kick.
Fuentes explains the virtues of Herrera’s new footwork, “He’s starting from the dirt with his front foot, and he just twists it a little bit. We eliminated the whole thing.” This makes Herrara, “More balanced, and more square to the ball. And [gives him] better plate coverage with the barrel of the bat.”
Herrera felt a nice change in his timing.
“Once we got rid of the leg kick, I was able to be more on-time, which gave myself a better opportunity to get my hands through to battle every pitch,” he said.
Perhaps the change shows up in the numbers. In 2013, in 116 games in the South Atlantic League, Herrera struck out in 23.1% of his plate appearances. In 2014, in 67 games in the more advanced Florida State League, he whiffed in just 14.2% of his PA.
The Mets acquired Herrera last August 29 along with reliever Vic Black, in the move that sent John Buck and Marlon Byrd to the Pirates.
“At first, I didn’t really understand the reason, why it happened. I was feeling down because of all my teammates I left behind, but now I’ve gotten over that,” Herrera said. It also helped that Herrera and his 2013 Sand Gnats teammates won the SAL championship, an experience Herrera says was a “dream.”
Herrera is now the youngest player in the Eastern League, beating out much-hyped Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor. Herrera is unfazed. “Age doesn’t really matter, because I’ll just keep working,” he said.
Fuentes is not worried in the slightest about Herrera’s ability to adjust to the Eastern League.
“He’s one of those guys: he doesn’t care. He just goes for it. He’s strong mentally. He’s a very mature kid and he’s a gamer. When you have a kid who plays hard, and knows his game so well, he’s not going to have a problem. He’s a package,” Fuentes said.
Herrera’s goal for double-a should sound familiar: “I just want to try to keep doing what I was doing in high-A: simplify things, and battle every at bat.”
If he keeps battling, there might be an opening for him in Queens as soon as he is ready.