PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- By just about any statistical or anecdotal indication, Daniel Murphy enjoyed the best year of his life in 2013.
On the field, Murphy set career highs in games played, plate appearances, home runs, runs scored, RBIs and Wins Above Replacement, most of them by significant margins. His defense at second base, markedly improved from the year before, was no longer a talking point around Citi Field. His health, also an issue in the past, remained sound.
Off the field, Murphy found continued peace through his family and deep religious faith. He and his wife, Victoria, are expecting a baby boy in April. Murphy, 28, signed a $5.7-million contract in his second year of arbitration eligibility, nearly doubling his lifetime earnings with a single pen stroke.
Still, he stresses. The compulsiveness that made him one of the game's most obsessive hitters has not faded.
"It is nice to get here, but you never want to feel like you've arrived," said Murphy, now the second-longest tenured Mets player behind David Wright. "I think the point when you've reached where you wanted to get to and you've accomplished what you want to, you need to find something else to do.
"That's the fun part is you put together a good year, but no one cares right now. There's not a single pitcher I'll face in Spring Training or during the season that -- they couldn't care less. My year last year was my best year of my career, and I'm hopefully a piece that's going to help this team win ballgames, but they don't care. The fun part is the slate's washed clean now. I've got no base hits, no walks, I got no errors -- I like that part, no errors."
A former 13th-round Draft pick, Murphy has accomplished more in the past half-decade than most impartial observers could ever have expected from him. But he does see three clear areas in need of improvement: defense, power hitting and on-base percentage.
The first is obvious. A natural third baseman, Murphy was initially dreadful at second; his inexperience there likely played a role in the two serious knee injuries he sustained earlier in his career. Though Murphy appeared much-improved early last year, a spree of midseason errors -- eight of his 16 miscues came in July alone -- dragged down his overall defensive performance. His hope is that with another year of experience, he can continue to improve.
The second area of improvement is perhaps not so obvious. Murphy hit more home runs last year -- 13 -- than in his previous two seasons combined, though some of that found roots in his sheer number of at-bats. Murphy's slugging percentage remained roughly stagnant while his isolated power -- an advanced metric designed to quantify slugging ability more accurately -- increased only slightly. What Murphy gained in over-the-fence pop, he lost in gap-to-gap hitting.
The third area, for the Mets, is the sticking point. For all his statistical worth, Murphy actually decreased his on-base percentage by 13 percentage points, prompting his general manager to criticize him publicly -- "He doesn't walk enough ... I think he knows that," Sandy Alderson said in December -- and his manager to shy away from shaking up the lineup. A significant reason why Terry Collins is considering starting Eric Young Jr. over Juan Lagares in the outfield is because without Young in the lineup, the Mets have no obvious leadoff hitter. Once upon a time, they might have more seriously considered Murphy for that role.
Still, for all his flaws, Murphy has established himself as an integral part of the 2014 Mets. The team is depending on him to stay healthy, play every day and post numbers resembling those that he produced last year.
For Murphy personally, his future will depend on such continued steadiness. Despite his rising arbitration price tag, he and the Mets never discussed a multi-year deal over the winter. He would be open to doing so in the future, but prefers to leave those discussions entirely up to the team and his agents.
"What is comfort? Is it money? I've made an ungodly amount of money," Murphy said. "That's the only way to describe it. We're in a really cool spot with a child coming on the way, that's exciting. That would be the way I would describe where we're at -- a very exciting time. But comfort comes and it doesn't really last.
"You see an organization heading in the direction that we're heading, it's an exciting time. So you always want to be a part of that. However that looks -- one-year deals or whatever that looks like -- other than playing well, that is a little bit out of my control as well. But I do want to be a part of the solution."