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2015 Daniel Murphy vs. 2004 Carlos Beltran


The Mets are going to the World Series, and one of the main reasons for that is that Daniel Murphy is suddenly hotter than the Sun. While the long wait between the end of the NLCS and the start of the World Series could be what it takes to cool off the New York second baseman, his contributions to the team have been historic to the point that he is breaking all sorts of records. And yet, as it all has unraveled, the name “Carlos Beltran” has been coming up repeatedly during Murphy’s stretch of dominance.

When Beltran tore up the 2004 postseason with homer after homer, it seemed as if that kind of performance would never be replicated. I remember seeing it game after game and just being dumbfounded as to why teams continued to challenge Beltran when it seemed as he if deserved the Barry Bonds treatment. Now, Murphy has at least replicated what Beltran did, if not surpassed it with his endless array of heroics.

So whose performance can we consider the most impressive? Today we take a look at how the 2004 playoff version of Carlos Beltran compares to what Daniel Murphy is doing in 2015. As for now, it seems as if we will be calling the next playoff break-out a Murphy, but it is always fun to scan through the numbers.

The Background

When Carlos Beltran entered his first playoffs in 2004, he had been part of a midseason trade that sent him from Kansas City to Houston. While the three-team transaction saw the likes of Mark Teahen, John Buck, and Octavio Dotel switch teams, the biggest name was, by far, Beltran. He had been Rookie of the Year in 1999, with an accumulated 113 OPS+ and 146 homers in his six-plus seasons in the league. As a quality outfielder with plus speed, Beltran had accumulated nearly 30 bWAR in his major-league career.

Also, his 2004 season had presented his biggest power output so far, with his 38 homers being the first time he surpassed the 30-homer mark. That included 23 dingers in only 90 games after arriving in Houston, though he only hit two after August. While such an offensive onslaught could be surprising considering his slow September, Beltran had the track record as a tremendous hitter with power.

Daniel Murphy had also played a bit over six seasons since arriving as a rookie in 2009, but his profile has always been much more modest. In 3,619 plate appearances, Murphy has accrued a really good 110 OPS+, but that has been built mostly on high batting averages and doubles power. The second baseman entered the postseason with 62 homers and 228 doubles in his career, while his lackluster defense and base running limited him to 12.5 bWAR. Even as Murphy has always been a bit underrated and a solid piece of the modern Mets, his only major accolade came as a 2014 All-Star nod.

His 2015 season had certainly been modest before playing in his first playoffs, as Murphy did hit a career-high 14 homers, with 8 of them coming between August and September, which coincides with New York’s rise to the top in the season’s second half. However, Murphy never homered in consecutive games during the regular season. In fact, the only time in his career where he homered in consecutive days came in May 1st and 2nd, 2009, when he did the trick against Chan Ho Park and Jamie Moyer (!!!).

The Playoff Numbers

In Game 1 of the 2004 NLDS versus the Braves, Beltran hit a homer among his 3 hits to contribute to a 9-3 Astros win. The series went a full five games, with Beltran again homering in Games 3 and 5, including a 2-homer output in the deciding contest. That kind of stretch continued towards the NLCS, where the Astros faced the Cardinals. Beltran homered in the first four games of the series to make it five straight games with a homer, setting a new playoff record. Beltran was then stopped in games 5 through 7, where the Astros were eliminated despite having held a 3-2 series lead.

Even as Beltran couldn’t carry the Astros to their first World Series, he still left this preposterous batting line:

12 games, 56 PA, .435 AVG/.536 OBP /1.022 SLG, 8HR, 14 RBI, 6 SB, 1.046 WPA

Beltran did feast on some of the Braves’ and Cardinals’ subpar pitchers, with 3 homers off Jaret Wright, and a few others off the likes of Matt Morris, Woody Williams, and a young Dan Haren.

For his part, Murphy started Game 1 of the NLDS hitting a homer off Clayton Kershaw to guide the Mets to a surprising win in Los Angeles. He cooled off in games 2 and 3 of the same series, only to be an essential part of what the Mets did in Game 5 of the NLDS to knock off the Dodgers. Murphy then went on to homer in all 4 games in the NLCS sweep of the Cubs, leading to six straight games with a homer, in what remains an active stretch that already broke Beltran’s previous record.

Murphy enters the World Series with this videogame-like line:

9 games, 39 PA, .421 AVG/.436 OBP /1.026 SLG, 7HR, 11 RBI, 1 SB, 0.673 WPA

While Murphy has been a terror for all kinds of starters and reliever in these playoffs, it is important to note that he already hit a homer against the three pitchers that are all but certain to finish top 3 in the NL Cy Young voting. The homer against Kershaw was a start, and it was followed with dingers off Zack Greinke and Jake Arrieta, for good measure.

Aftermath

Even as Beltran’s power was not enough to carry the Astros to the World Series, he parlayed his success to a 7-year, $119 million contract with none other than the Mets. Even as he hit 149 homers in New York, with 5 All-Star appearances, a top-5 MVP finish, and a trade that netted them Zack Wheeler, Beltran is still mostly remembered in Queens by an infamous non-swing.

Beltran remains active and will enter his 39-year-old season in 2016 under contract with the Yankees. In a career where he has also made stops in San Francisco and St. Louis, Beltran is probably a fringe Hall of Famer that should reach 400 career homers as he still looks for his first career title.

Murphy’s story remains mostly unwritten, as he still has to play in the World Series and add to his legend. What he’s done so far is certainly impressive and out of character, which is a testament to baseball’s magic and the unpredictability of the playoffs, where average players like David Freese and Marco Scutaro have become superstars in recent seasons.

What now becomes interesting is that Murphy is about to enter free agency for the first time, and he will be an intriguing option even as he turns 31 next spring. He earned $8 million in free agency this season, and this recent power spike is bound to earn him a huge raise. The Mets probably have the payroll flexibility to keep him around as the underrated lifer that has been quite consistent in his New York tenure, but a lot of that will probably depend on how the World Series turns out.

In the end, I’d still side with what Beltran did more than a decade ago, as he was more dominant as demonstrated by his OBP, stolen bases, and raw power. Even still, Murphy has the chance to up the ante by continuing his feats in the highest stage, while Beltran wasn’t even able to play in the Fall Classic. Nevertheless, it is always fun when a player catches fire and it just seems impossible to get him out.



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