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Earlier this season, pitchers were exploiting Murphy's wide stance by pounding him inside with fastballs. He and the hitting coach Howard Johnson were aware of it, but Murphy continued to struggle, batting .176 in May and .240 in June. Only recently have those adjustments started to feel natural, and since Aug. 15 Murphy is batting .306 with 15 runs batted in.
"He's evolving, maturing into a pretty decent hitter," Manager Jerry Manuel said.
With Carlos Delgado unlikely to be re-signed, the Mets have maintained that they can sacrifice power at first base, a position traditionally occupied by sluggers (or at least players with 20-homer potential), as long as they fill that void at another position. They could do that in left field, the only outfield spot where a rangy and fast defender is not as much of a necessity.
Jeff Francoeur's teammates have remarked, for instance, how good a fit he seems in treacherous right field. With Carlos Beltran manning center, a slugger like Jason Bay or Matt Holliday -- both are free agents -- would make for an imposing outfield but would also cost a fortune.
This season, 24 major league first basemen have played enough to qualify for the batting lead. Even with those wonderful stats since the middle of August, Murphy ranks 23rd in on-base percentage and 22nd in slugging percentage.
In fairness, there's still plenty of room for improvement. Murphy's only 24, and he spent just one full season in the minors (including just one game in Triple-A). As you might recall, Murphy was an infielder in the minors before the desperate Mets turned him into a left fielder upon summoning him to the majors last August. That seemed to work well enough, particularly because Murphy enjoyed the best two months of his life as a hitter. After which a number of people -- including Jerry Manuel, I'll bet -- said he was better than just "pretty decent."
Of course, it was all a mirage. This season he looked awful in left field before switching to first base, and he never has really hit. Maybe someday Murphy will be good enough to play regularly, perhaps at third base. But he's not good enough, now. And it's preposterous to suggest that he will be good enough next year, if only the Mets can deploy a power-hitting left fielder.
Baseball doesn't work that way. You can revive Ted Williams to play left field, and you'd still be giving away runs (and wins) at first base. Which doesn't mean you don't do it; every team gives away runs somewhere. But organizationally, you'd better at least know you're giving away runs, so you can work on not giving away runs.