Welcome to another edition of Mortal Kombat, where we take two potentially evenly matched players and pit them against each other to see who the better man is. This week’s matchup is quite interesting. On one side we have Daniel Murphy of the Mets who has come into his own the past few years. Looking at our early 2015 rankings, Murphy comes in at number 10, ranking between 8-11 with one lone ranking of 18. His opposition will be Tommy La Stella, the newly appointed second baseman for the Atlanta Braves hoping to make a name for himself. La Stella was ranked inside the top 20 by only one person (Yours truly) making him a late round pick or a sneaky waiver wire acquisition early in the season. Is it worth using a mid-round pick on Murphy, or are drafters better off waiting and taking a flyer on the little hyped La Stella?
Let’s go to the tale of the tape to see how these two stack up against each other.
|Daniel Murphy||Tommy La Stella|
|Age||30 (April 1st)||26 (January 31st)|
|Height||6′ 1″||5′ 11″|
|Bats/Throws||L / R||L / R|
|First Year in Majors||2008||2014|
|ML At Bats||2855||319|
Looking at the past 3 years, Murphy has batted .291, .286 and .289. I think it is safe to say that the career .290 line for Murphy is a safe bet for 2015. He’s better against right-handed pitchers, but a career .274 line against lefties is well above average and means you don’t have to worry about who is on the mound when Murphy is in your lineup. His home/away splits are a little concerning though. For his career, Murphy is a .294 hitter on the road and a .285 hitter at home, but that home average has been on a downward trend. In 2012 he hit .322; that fell to .263 in 2013 and this year, he finished with a .250 home average. While the overall package is strong, this isn’t a good trend. The good news is he doesn’t have the same problem in Nationals park and does well at Marlins and Citizens Bank park so this helps make up for some of his home issues. Turner field is his kryptonite.
Tommy La Stella batted .251 in his first go around. He hit .292 in 154 at bats in the first half, but that average fell to .212 after the all-star break. It could have been fatigue or maybe pitchers adjusted to him, but he showed us in the minors that he is a much better hitter than that. Before his call-up, he was batting .293 in AAA which is right in line with what we saw from him in the first half. This was also his first year in AAA so he is still learning, but he did hit .343 in AA in 2013. In 2012, La Stella hit .302 in A+ ball and overall, he holds a .322 minor league average in a little over 1,000 at bats (with only 102 strikeouts). Scouting reports say La Stella has good bat speed, excellent hand-eye coordination and a patient approach so he should be able to handle major league pitcher sooner rather than later.
Murphy is the safe bet here as you can virtually guarantee what you are going to get. La Stella, on the other hand, has a better minor league track record. Murphy batted .320 when he was 26 years old, but he had one more full year of ML service than La Stella will have for his age 26 year. While it is possible La Stella could bat .290, I think a safer bet would be somewhere in the .275-.280 range. The upside is there, but so is the unknown.
Murphy had 13 home runs in 2013; in the past 5 years, that is the only year he reached double digits. His ISO that year was .129 and his ISO in 2014 was .114 (.112 in 2012). His average fly ball distance in 2014 was 267 feet, up from 262 feet in 2013. His FB% went came down in 2014, his HR/FB% settled in at 6% and his LD% spiked to 28,2% (almost even with his FB%). It’s safe to say you should not expect double-digit home runs from Murphy, and Streamers has him hitting 8 in 2015.
La Stella’s average fly ball distance in the majors last year was 264 feet which was almost equal to Murphy. He showed similar power (or lack there of) to Murphy in the minors and while he fell a few home runs short of Murphy’s totals, he did have a good number of doubles. While his highest home run total in the minors was 6, he did play a good number of games in pitchers parks so there is a chance a few more balls could clear the wall in the majors, but only a few. La Stella’s ISO in 2012 was .158 and .131 in 2013 (right around where Murphy was in the minors), don’t expect this to go any higher as he gets acclimated to the majors. Streamers has La Stella hitting only 4 home runs in 2015, but they also don’t expect him to reach 500 at bats so that number seems a few short.
It’s clear that neither player has much power and you shouldn’t really be looking to either man for homers. Murphy might have a slight edge, but I don’t think anyone would seriously consider 2-3 home runs enough of an edge to really count in the grand scheme of things.
In 2008, Daniel Murphy stole 14 bases for the AA Binghamton Mets. Until 2013 that was his highest total to date so it was surprise to see 23 out of him in 2013. Murphy doesn’t have great speed, but what he does possess is superior awareness of the men on the field and the ability to read the opposition. He knows who’s behind the plate, where the second baseman is, whether the pitcher is paying attention to him or not and takes advantage. This is different from guys like Rajai Davis and Jacoby Ellsbury who can steal a base regardless of these factors. Murphy is aggressive and takes advantage of situations which makes him appear to have more speed than he actually does. Murphy is not fast, but he has learned to run the bases giving him the appearance of speed. The 23 bases he stole in 2013 is an abnormality, a rare occurrence that owners should not count on. In 2014 he stole 13 bases. This is what you should expect from Murphy as his ceiling so don’t expect a repeat of 2013.
La Stella is no speed demon either. He stole 13 bases in 2012 in just over 300 at bats. He had just 8 in 2013 across 2 levels covering the same number of at bats showing that he was capable of reaching double digits but not much beyond that. In 2014 the speed vanished. For whatever reason he made little attempt to run. Maybe his manager in AAA had him working on other things or they were being cautious with him due the injuries he suffered in 2013. Like Murphy, La Stella is good at running the bases so maybe it may have been a case of learning to read things at the a higher level. He has the speed to steal 10-14 bases a year, very similar to Murphy. The only real question is, will the Braves give him the opportunity?
Both players are light in the speed department, but of the two, Murphy is the one who has been able to display his wheels at the major league level. Just like with home runs, both men appear to have an equal chance on paper. La Stella could step up in 2015, but his ceiling is no higher than Murphy’s.
For the past 2 season, Murphy has made the number two spot in the lineup his home. In 2013 with some decent hitting behind him, he managed to score 92 runs. I’m sure playing in 161 games and having a career high 658 at bats had a little to do with that as well. In 2014 the at bats fell off (as did the talent behind him) and his run total fell to 79. This number is low but still very good considering the team around him. Murphy doesn’t walk much. His 6.1% walk percentage in 2014 was the highest it has been in four years. This wasn’t the case in the minors and at age 30, I don’t see it improving much now. His runs will depend on his bat and ability to get on base. As long as the batting average remains stable, I would expect at least another 80 runs with the chance for more. The more would come from a healthy David Wright, Curtis Granderson remembering how to hit and Lucas Duda maintaining the level he set for himself in 2014.
La Stella’s success will be tied to his batting average. If he can do what he did in the minors, a spot at the top of the lineup could be his. Andrelton Simmons failed to live up to his rookie season, doesn’t walk enough and spent most of the time near the bottom half. Heyward could be an option to hit second, but other than doing the unthinkable of having Justin Upton hitting leadoff (or worse yet B.J.), the Braves don’t have a prototypical leadoff hitter. La Stella was a .300 hitter in the minors. His lowest OBP in the minors was the .384 he posted in 2014 playing in AAA. The walk percentage has stabilized at 12% the past two years between AA and AAA. While he doesn’t have the speed of a leadoff hitter, his ability to draw walks and make contact make him a perfect candidate considering the alternatives. With players like Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman and Evan Gattis hitting behind him, La Stella has the ability to rack up a ton of runs. That is, if he can hit for average and Atlanta gives him the opportunity up top. B.J. Upton scored 54 runs batting first and second in just over 370 at bats. That would have put him at just over 80 runs scored with 500 at bats, and that with a horrific batting average.
Murphy has an edge because he know where he is batting in the lineup. La Stella is the wild card here. He has a superior walk rate giving him more opportunities to score. He walks more than he strikes out which usually leads to success in the majors as far as batting average goes. And, he is on a team that lacks a solid hitter in the top spot. Everything is aligned for La Stella to score at least 80 runs. While he can’t be counted on to hit for power or steal bases, the batting average is his calling card so I would expect good things here.
Runs Batted In
2013 was Murphy’s best year in this department, knocking in 78 runs. That number fell to 58 in 2014 as the opportunities just weren’t there for him. Prior to 2012, Dustin Pedroia spent his career in the number 2 spot and had anywhere between 54 and 91 RBIs. Murphy is no Pedroia, but it just goes to show you the instability of this stat for a number two hitter and shows how much depends upon who is hitting in front of you. Pedroia had Jacoby Ellsbury for years and when he was healthy, Pedroia got his RBIs. The Mets don’t have a Jacoby Ellsbury on their team, nobody even close so those 78 RBIs Murphy had in 2013 I would say are his ceiling and best case scenario. Worst case, well, we saw that in 2014. Murphy is basically the same hitter in all situations. Whether the bases are empty or runners on, there is no looking for a few extra RBIs in certain situations. What you see is what you get, so his numbers come down to the team around him (I know, that doesn’t inspire much hope)
La Stella is in a little bit better situation since Atlanta has a little more talent than the Mets. Hitting leadoff for the Braves would seriously hamper any chances he has of surpassing 60 RBIs. Batting second, which is unlikely but possible, would put La Stella in the same boat as Murphy and put them dead even. If he’s making solid contact I can see him batting 6th maybe, but given the needs in Atlanta at the top I can’t see it happening. Expect La Stella to possibly start at the bottom of the lineup and quickly move to one of the two top spots. I can see both scenario’s, La Stella being equal to and also surpassing Murphy in the RBI category. My money says then end up even. That doesn’t help La Stella win the battle here, but it puts him in decent company.
Now I know what some (if not all) of you were thinking before you even started reading this, that there is no way……..No Way, that La Stella and Murphy should be put in the same class as far as talent. To be honest, I knew that going into this battle, but their skill set was so similar in the minors I thought it would be fun. Murphy has a touch more power and speed while La Stella should have a better batting average, OBP and makes better contact. Other than that, they are eerily similar. In one or two years, they could be dead even as far as numbers go.
I could have easily compared Murphy to Howie Kendrick who came in ranked 12th, Chase Utley who ranked 14th, or even Scooter Gennett at #17 and things would have been closer. The fact that a player like La Stella, who wasn’t even ranked in the top 20, could come close to comparing to Murphy should tell you something about the second base situation going into 2015. The position is deep, like Mariana trench deep. If you miss out on a top 5 or 6 guy, there is no need to panic. The talent level of the next guys are so close that it doesn’t pay to grab one until later. Kevin pointed this out in detail the other day in his waiting game series. If you have not read it yet, you should take a few minutes now. The difference between the guys ranked 6-10 and 11-15 last season is very minimal. Like I said a few days ago in the 2015 rankings, unless you are dead set on getting a player like Rendon, Altuve or Kinsler, there is No reason to waste an early pick for second base.
As for La Stella, I would easily select him with one of my final picks in leagues that use a MI slot. He could be just as good as most of the players ranked from 10 to 20, and there is a good chance that he will be available on waivers to start the season. So enjoy your Murphy pick, but don’t forget about the guys ranked below him that go un-drafted, they might be just as good (or better).
The Mortal Kombat Series