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Daniel Murphy might be one of the best first basemen in baseball

Moving Murphy to a new position increases his value, giving Colorado one of the best signings of the winter.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Murphy has signed with the Colorado Rockies for two years, and there is speculation the team will slide him from second base over to first. We know Murphy’s already excellent bat will likely get a boost playing in Coors, but the Rockies could really maximize his value with this defensive shift.

Let’s start with the bat, which is the easy part of this equation. Using wRC+, Murphy has been anywhere from just above average to excellent at the plate from 2008 through 2018, with one hiccup in 2009 (when he posted a slightly below average 94).

It’s safe to say that his bat will play just fine in Colorado, and in fact should see an increase in production. In 2018, Coors Field was, of course, one of the top hitter’s parks in the league according to Park Factors. Murphy’s 2018 wRC+ of 110 (in a season where he missed a good portion of games due to injury) could easily bounce back to the loftier 135 he posted in 2017.

The real increase in value for Murphy, though, could come from the position shift. Murphy has always been a liability in the field at second base, never once posting a positive DRS over 8 seasons and 7,090 innings of work at the position. Last season was his worst at second base, with a -18 DRS in just 535 innings.

While he has played a lot less at first base, we do have some data to compare. Murphy has played 1,760 innings at first base for a career 18 DRS. The most time he spent at the position was in 2009, logging 849 innings for a DRS of 11. In 2011, he played 419 innings at the position for a DRS of 7. Since then, he’s played more sparingly at first, but basically has been a pretty average defender at the spot, not hurting his team with the glove.

Once upon a time, when weighing the value of Alex Gordon’s glove versus players like Michael Brantley, I did some very simple math and added wRC with DRS for a number I called Runs Created + Saved, or RCS. Below is a comparison of second basemen from 2017 (Murphy’s last full season) who played at least 1,000 innings at the position, using RCS.

2017 Second Basemen ranked by RCS

Player wRC DRS RCS
Player wRC DRS RCS
Jose Altuve 128 3 131
Brian Dozier 110 -4 106
Jonathan Schoop 102 2 104
DJ LeMahieu 95 8 103
Jed Lowrie 93 -2 91
Daniel Murphy 104 -15 89
Whit Merrifield 83 5 88
Robinson Cano 86 0 86
Dee Gordon 80 3 83
Cesar Hernandez 82 -2 80
Ian Kinsler 70 6 76
Joe Panik 74 -11 63
Rougned Odor 53 3 56

As you can see, Murphy had the third highest wRC of the bunch, but defense dropped him to sixth overall when ranked by RCS. That’s not a disastrous drop, but it puts him among the likes of Jed Lowrie and Whit Merrifield rather than Jose Altuve.

At first base, if Murphy simply posts a DRS of zero, his value as an all-around player won’t take a such a hit. Let’s take a look at first baseman from 2018 (again with more than 1,000 innings), and again use Murphy’s 2017 wRC (since we assume he will bounce back in Colorado).

2018 First Basemen ranked by RCS*

Player wRC DRS RCS
Player wRC DRS RCS
Freddie Freeman 119 12 131
Paul Goldschmidt 123 6 129
Joey Votto 101 9 110
Anthony Rizzo 102 4 106
Matt Olson 91 14 105
Daniel Murphy 104 0 104
Jesus Aguilar 93 6 99
Carlos Santana 90 0 90
Eric Hosmer 76 8 84
Justin Smoak 86 -3 83
Yonder Alonso 69 4 73
Josh Bell 78 -9 69
Ian Desmond 73 -6 67
Ryon Healy 53 -9 44
Chris Davis 29 -4 25
*Includes Daniel Murphy’s 2017 wRC & assumes average defense.

As you can see above, Murphy would have arguably been the sixth most valuable first baseman in the majors. This places him well ahead of last year’s big first baseman signing, Eric Hosmer, and at a much lower price for Colorado.

The move also allows Ian Desmond to use his athleticism at another position, so the chain reaction of players moving to new positions not only helps Murphy, but his teammates, making the Rockies a stronger defensive club. With these minor adjustments, the Rockies should be even more dangerous in 2019, and Daniel Murphy could be an All Star-caliber player as Colorado mounts another postseason run.