Whit Merrifield has been seen as an ideal fantasy player over the past few seasons thanks to his ability to steal bases. Unfortunately that seemingly took a significant step backwards in 2019, as both his total and success rate plummeted:
|Year||Stolen Bases||Success Rate|
Those marks don’t represent small steps backwards either, so now the question is whether or not it’s a blip on the radar or if this is a permanent regression. Interestingly his Sprint Speed, as per Statcast, has been going the wrong way over this period:
- 2017 – 29.2 ft/sec
- 2018 – 29.0 ft/sec
- 2019 – 28.6 ft/sec
Last year’s mark puts him in a tie for 50th out of 349 players with at least 75 opportunities. That’s not a poor mark, but it’s more average than screaming of an elite base runner. A lot of the issue has come from his “bolts”, which one would think would be indicative of his pure speed. In 2018 he had 25 “bolts”, last year he had just 11.
At his age seeing a decline in his speed and stolen base opportunities shouldn’t come as a surprise, though how much of a dent does it have on his value? He hit .302 with 16 HR last season and there’s little reason to think that he can’t continue on the same power path (67 total extra base hits, 8.7% HR/FB). The bigger question comes from his average…
Over the past two years he’s benefited from BABIP of .352 and .350. Maintaining that mark when he was seen as a speedster makes sense, but what happens if he has lost a step? His 38.4% Hard% certainly doesn’t differentiate him from the pack and while he’ll benefit from a willingness to use the entire field (28.0% Oppo%) and lack of popups (7.1% IFFB) is it really enough?
What if the BABIP drops more into the .320 range? A drop around a .280ish AVG with the potential to be more like a 15/15 player, as opposed to a 15/40, would obviously have a dramatic impact on his outlook. While the upside is there, there would appear to be a good chance that he ultimately becomes an overvalued option if/when games are played in 2020.
Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Savant
Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings: