Murphy smashing records with refined approach

Second baseman enters June flirting with .400 average

Murphy smashing records with refined approach

PHILADELPHIA -- Whatever the Nationals expected when they signed Daniel Murphy to a three-year, $37.5 million contract this offseason, he has far exceeded their expectations through this season's first two months.

His month of May was one of the best in franchise history, where he tied a franchise record with 47 hits and shattered a franchise record by batting .416 (the previous best was .393) after going 2-for-4 in Tuesday's 5-1 win over the Phillies.

Murphy has recorded a multi-hit game in 26 of the 51 he has played this season. Murphy homered on back-to-back nights on Monday and Tuesday, giving him seven for the month of May, the most he has hit in any given month besides his stellar postseason run last October. And Murphy begins the month of June batting .397, the best average in the Majors, and 47 points higher than the next closest batter, Boston's Xander Bogaerts.

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But what are realistic expectations for Murphy going forward the rest of this season?

He almost certainly will not hit .400 this season. No player since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941 has sustained such a level all season. But perhaps .350 or .360 are not out of the question? At least a batting title?

"Murph has given me his best, plus some," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "So instead of worrying about when it's going to stop, just give me some more, keep it going.

"It's up to me to try to keep him strong and in the right frame of mind to go out there and play. Right now he's not thinking about hitting .400, he's not thinking about anything other than the simplest form each at-bat, each inning at a time. You start worrying about stuff way out there, that inhibits what you got to do today."

Murphy's solo home run

Murphy's batting average on balls in play is .415, which appears unsustainably high, although he is in the top 15 in line-drive percentage and top 25 in hard-hit percentage in baseball.

He has proven that he basically reinvented himself as a hitter over the past calendar year. His change in batting stance has been well documented, crouching more and standing closer to the plate, improving his power and turning him into one of the 20 best hitters in baseball over the past calendar year. That's not even including his incredible run in the 2015 postseason, where he mashed seven homers to help the Mets reach the World Series.

He has nine home runs this season, more than halfway to his career high (14 in 2015 in 499 at bats) in just 194 at bats on the season. His increased power seems sustainable considering he has started elevating the ball with more height -- 18.6 degree launch angle this year, up from 11 last year, according to Statcast™ -- with a flyball percentage currently at 45 percent compared to 29 percent in 2014, and 36 percent in 2015. He also has posted one of baseball's lowest groundball rates at 28.2 percent this season, fourth lowest in the league. And Murphy is pulling the ball more often than in years past 38.2 percent this year and 40.7 percent of the time last season, compared to 33.8 in 2014.

"Just looking for a pitch in my zone, get my A-swing off," Murphy said Tuesday night as he has repeated often this season, reluctant to talk about his approach beyond that statement.

But being able to simplify that approach has impressed the rest of the Nationals, including Bryce Harper, who cited Murphy's consistent routine and work ethic as the most impressive part of Murphy's stellar start to the season. And that is something he can keep going, regardless of the month.

"Murph's ready to hit June, July, August and September," Baker said. "And we've seen him in October. Doesn't really matter."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.