by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
The Royals’ Whit Merrifield was one of the best waiver wire finds of 2017. While he showed signs of emerging the year before, it looked like it was more sizzle than substance considering he had just 2 HR and 8 SB over 332 PA. That all changed last season, as he transformed into an impressive five-category producer:
587 At Bats
.288 Batting Average (169 Hits)
19 Home Runs
34 Stolen Bases
.324 On Base Percentage
.460 Slugging Percentage
.308 Batting Average on Balls in Play
He’s always shown the ability to steal bases, with 32 SB in 2015 and 28 SB in 2016 (with 20 SB over 274 AB at Triple-A). So the true development came in the form of his power. Is it sustainable? Can he continue to hit .280+?
Obviously his 9.4% HR/FB doesn’t raise a red flag, and with 32 doubles and 6 triples there’s clearly a little bit of power at play. That said he also needed a 40.5% fly ball rate to reach the power mark, hardly an ideal number for a leadoff hitter whose best asset is his speed. There also was a little bit of a split in the production (HR // HR/FB):
- First Half – 7 HR // 7.2%
- Second Half – 12 HR // 11.4%
It’s easy to think the first half marks are closer to the truth, putting him more in the 13-16 HR range. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially if he’s stealing 25+ bases, but he needs to be able to maintain his average as well.
Over the past two seasons he’s amassed a 23.0% line drive rate (21.8% in ’17), leading to a .326 BABIP. Considering those numbers it’s easy to envision last year’s mark rising, especially with his speed, and while we’d like to see a few less fly balls it’s not a crippling mark that’s going to lock him into maintaining a lower BABIP. He posted a .312 BABIP in the second half of ’17, and seeing him jump back into .320+ wouldn’t be shocking.
While he’s been a little too aggressive at the plate (34.3% O-Swing%), that has meant a limited walk rate (4.6%) but not swings and misses (7.9% SwStr%). Obviously that hurts his OBP and with the Royals moving towards a rebuild it’s hard to project him into the 90+ R range. That gives his value a little hit, and keeps him out of the upper echelon of options, but overall we’d still expect solid across the board production for 2018:
.285 (164-575), 15 HR, 65 RBI, 85 R, 29 SB, .316 BABIP, .329 OBP, .442 SLG
Those aren’t elite numbers and it’s extremely possible he falls a little bit short (especially in the runs scored). That said, potential 15/30 middle infielders don’t grow on trees. There’s enough potential/upside to lock him into a Top 10 option (especially given the lack of SB) and consider him a must own option in all formats.
Source – Fangraphs
Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Projections: