SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Daniel Murphy's desire and foot movements, it turned out, matched what the advanced stats say: He should be playing first base for the Rockies.
Murphy, who signed with the Rockies for two years and $24 million, entered pro ball with the Mets at third base, but David Wright's presence necessitated a position change. He has made 834 Major League appearances at second base with the Mets, Nationals and Cubs. But he has been a far better defender in his 225 games at first, which he says is his favorite position.
"It’s probably the position I’m the most comfortable, the one I’m the most productive defensively," Murphy said. "I learned second base on the fly. For whatever reason -- I don’t know if it’s because I came up as a third baseman -- first baseman came a little bit more naturally to me. And I don’t mind having a bigger glove, either."
Defensive metrics should be taken under advisement, since they can be skewed by where a player is positioned. They all point to Murphy, a threat to win batting titles and produce significant runs offensively, being below-average at second.
Baseball Info Solutions puts his Defensive Runs Saved -- a figure that accumulates -- at minus-83 at second (for comparison, former Rockies mainstay DJ LeMahieu, now with the Yankees, has a 67 DRS at the position). But in 1,760 2/3 innings at first base, Murphy has accumulated a respectable DRS of 18. In the years he played the most at first base -- 849 1/3 innings in 2009 and 419 in 2011 -- he had respective DRS figures of 11 and 7, or well above average.
"My feet seem to move a little bit better, and I’ve just got a little more freedom," Murphy said. "I don’t really know why. If I knew how to explain it, I’d have tried to translate it a little bit more to second base."
Under a plan that included moving Ian Desmond from first base to center field, the Rockies could have gone with a free agent at first base or second base, but had more homegrown talent and depth at second base. Whey they focused on first during the offseason, they were mentioned as possible trade suitors for Justin Smoak (most seriously, it turned out), Carlos Santana and Edwin Encarnacion.
Murphy had the offensive and defensive package the Rockies liked most. A team that relies heavily on pitching also relies on not giving away outs in the infield, and the Rockies and manager Bud Black knew enough about Murphy at first base to trust that his past performance will hold.
"I’ve seen Daniel play for seven or eight years, and I’ve seen him play first base as far as with the Mets, and saw him play in the Wild Card Game with the Cubs," Black said. "Of course, our front office team and our extended front office team did their homework on range, and when we talked to Stu [Cole, third-base coach and infield instructor] and other guys about Murphy, we were very confident about him playing first base.
"And in the process of trying to sign Daniel, he indicated he likes first base, feels very comfortable."
Early workouts have been smooth, but the test will come when six-time Gold Glove-winning third baseman Nolan Arenado and shortstop Trevor Story, who often reach tough grounders because of their impressive range, make difficult throws that Murphy will have to stretch for or scoop under game intensity.
"If he asks for it, we can always work on stuff, but as far as infielders we have to work on making good throws -- those bad ones are going to come," Arenado said. "I like his work ethic. You see him really getting after it. And he seems pretty comfortable, doesn’t seem like he’s new to the position."