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How good is Whit Merrifield?


Major League Baseball fans in Nebraska don’t have a team to root for — the only baseball team around here is the Kansas City Royals Triple-A affiliate, Omaha Storm Chasers — so most Nebraskans are probably cheering for the Royals. After winning the 2015 World Series, baseball in Kansas City has sputtered into now two straight 100+ loss seasons. But there has been one player unscathed by the horrendous plane crash that is Royals baseball, that man is Whit Merrifield.

On Wednesday, May 18, 2016, Merrifield of Mocksville, NC rose from his tomb in Omaha to play baseball in Kansas City. Since his first full season in 2017, he’s been named as one of the better players in the game. But just how good is Whit?

To answer this question batting statistics from 2017 , 2018, and 2019 MLB seasons were gathered and combined into a Z-score measuring several different offensive aspects of the game: Plate Appearances (PA), At-Bats (AB), Batting Average (BA), Home Runs (HR), Runs Batted In (RBI), Stolen Bases (SB), Runs (R), On-Base Percentage (OBP), Slugging Percentage (SLG), On-Base + Slugging (OPS), Hits (H), and Base-on-Balls (BB). Fielding was not incorporated because in baseball the best bats are heralded as the best players, the best gloves play, but there’s a reason Omar Vizquel has not made it to Cooperstown.

To narrow down the total number of players, the average number of PAs by position of all players that qualified for a batting title (502 PAs over the 162 game season) from 2017-2019 was calculated. Exceptions were made for players that just missed the cutoff, but had comparable numbers to their fellow players of the same position.

To visualize the data, four scatter plots were made by position for each of the three seasons in question and the cumulative total. The Total Z score is the X and Plate Appearances is the Y because you can’t hit the ball if you don’t step up to the plate.

2017: Whit’s First Full Go.

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Whit was just an average player in 2017.
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Positional breakdown of player performance in 2017.

Whit was just an average player in 2017 compared to the superstars sliding in as the 46th player overall, but when looking at positional breakdown, Whit ranked as the number five second baseman in the league. Right now Merrifield is far from a solid ballplayer, though he did lead the AL in stolen bases with 32.

2018: Whit Sophomore Season.

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Whit had a break out 2018 campaign.
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Positional breakdown of MLB players in 2018.

Whit’s stock skyrocketed in 2018 due to leading the league in hits (192) and stolen bases (45). Going from five to one in the second base rankings and jumping 26 spots to number 20 overall, Whit’s 2018 campaign sure made him known to more than just the Kansas City faithful. But is 2018 Whit a fluke?

2019: Is Whit Legit?

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Two steps forward, one step back.
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Positional breakdown of player performance in 2019.

No, Whit’s 2018 wasn’t a fluke. His 2019 suffered from stealing 20 bases compared to the combined 79 SB in ‘17 and ‘18; the production lost in the stolen bases department wasn’t made up anywhere else. Whit is will turn 31 in January, players tend to hit a decline in their mid-30s, so Merrifield may have to improve another area of his game to make up for the lack of stolen bases. Whit did lead the league in hits with 206 in 2019. He ranked as the number four second baseman and 34th player overall in 2019.

So we’ve looked at each of Whit’s three full seasons in the bigs. He’s a top-five second baseman and ranked in the top 50, 20, and 40 in each of those seasons. How does he compare across the three years he’s been a regular?

2017-2019: Survey Says?

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There is still some distance between Whit and the stars.
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Close, but no cigar. Whit ranks as the #2 player at his position in his time as a regular.

Looking at the charts, Whit is a solid ballplayer. He ranks as the number two second baseman and 25th player overall from 2017-19, but in a game of what have you done for me lately, fans seem to forget about a player’s career accolades in favor of the most recent season or future potential.

Whit gets overlooked because he is a late bloomer, younger players like Gleybar Torres and Ozzie Albies are going to win over the fans more than Whit; while this data didn’t show it, players like DJ Lemahieu are surely better than Whit Merrifield overall, but since Whit’s three full years were measured here compared to DJ’s seven it’s difficult to compare. It’s important to remember that these are strictly offensive numbers, so things could look different defensively.

In conclusion, Whit Merrifield is a good ballplayer and one of the best second basemen in the league since he’s started, but he is not a superstar.