What on earth was that? By almost any measure, what Washington Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy accomplished in the 2016 fantasy baseball season can be considered nothing but phenomenal. In fact it was downright silly how crazy good Murphy was with the bat from the start of the year all the way through September as he claimed the NL batting title with a .347 average and set a career-high in home runs with 25 and in RBI with 104. Throw in 88 runs and 5 steals and Murphy was on the short list as MVP both in real and in fantasy baseball. This magical run for Murphy of course began getting put into motion during the 2015 postseason with the New York Mets. After hitting just 14 home runs during the regular season (which was actually a career-high at the time), Murphy went to work in the cage prior to start of the playoffs with hitting coach Kevin Long to try and generate more power with his swing. Long reportedly had Murphy move a bit closer to the plate so that his swing would get through the strike zone with increased velocity which he theorized would add more home runs to his ledger. 7 home runs that postseason and 25 bombs later in 2016 and clearly Long's strategy worked with outstanding results. Even prior to the power uptick, Murphy was generally considered one of the better pure hitters in baseball while with the Mets as he routinely put up some of the best K/9 rates in the game and seemed to always put the bat on the ball. Still Murphy was mostly a .290-.300 hitter before going nuts last season with his .347 mark. Now of course there was some BABIP luck involved as it would be for anything hitting for such a great average and Murphy was in the very lucky realm there at .348. While that is BABIP number that is very well into the lucky range (.around .300 is neutral), keep in mind that from 2011 through 2014, Murphy's BABIP was .315 or higher in each of those seasons. So Murphy clearly is one of those guys who can stay ahead of the BABIP curve as he has decent speed and again always puts the bat on the baseball. Now as far as the power is concerned, 25 home runs is a big outlier number compared to Murphy's career rates and so the easy assumption would be to move him back toward the 20 mark or even lower for 2017. While the trends do say to do this, keep in mind that since Long made the correction with Murphy at the plate, the homers have flown out at a consistently high rate spread out over the 2015 postseason and all six months of 2016. Also Murphy hitting in front of Bryce Harper all season resulted in him seeing a ton of fastballs after his teammate came off his video game-like 2015 campaign. Since that lineup setup is almost guaranteed again for 2017, Murphy will continue to see a steady stream of fastballs to drive. So when combined together, Murphy has a better chance of being in the 20-25 home run range then going back to the teen range. Pretty much the only thing you can knock Murphy about is his vanishing speed as he swiped only 5 bags a year ago. Murphy did have a two-year burst where he swiped 36 bags from 2013-14 but those days seem finished for good. So while we don't expect a .347 batting average again, we also think Murphy can be a huge force with the bat once again in 2017 based on the numbers and setup in Washington.
2017 PROJECTION: .322 23 HR 101 RBI 91 R 6 SB