If you tried to design the best baseball player in a laboratory I’m pretty sure you’d get Whit Merrifield. It’s not that he’s literally the best player in baseball; that’s obviously Mike Trout. But the thing about Whit is that he’s quite nearly the most perfect compromise possible in a human baseball player.
He plays decent defense at any position, he hits for a decent average, he has some pop, he’s got speed. But he’s got intangibles, too. The grit crowd loves him because he runs hard every play and he looks like he’s running hard. Then there is the whole 9 eggs for breakfast, story. He appeals to the sabermetrics crowd with the fact that he’s embraced the so-called Fly-Ball Revolution. His age, experience, life story, and current market all combine to make him a perpetual underdog. There’s absolutely no hint of a criminal past. He has taken absolutely no stance on politics one way or another subtly or overtly. He’s an attractive fellow with a hairstyle and facial hairstyle that accentuate his looks. In every single way imaginable it seems as though Whit has been designed to excel or at least remain unobjectionable.
It’s so common for players who win over the grit crowd to be overrated than when I read Ryan Heffernon’s piece, yesterday which declared Whit Merrifield the best player on the team I ran as fast as I could to FanGraphs in order to find the Royal with the highest fWAR and declare Whit wasn’t that good. But, of course, I discovered that - at least by that metric - Whit really is the best player on the Royals’ roster to this point in 2018. He has 2.0 fWAR which puts him 0.7 fWAR ahead of the next closest player - Jorge Soler. According to Baseball Reference, he has an identical bWAR. Admittedly, his lead there is only 0.5 bWAR over the terrific Kelvin Herrera.
So what does this mean? It’s hard to say. I have been one of the more bullish Royals Review writers when it came to Whit Merrifield and I was pretty sure he’d top out at 2 fWAR, this season. I’ve gone on record multiple times that I figured 2017 was probably his career year and that he’d be a useful but never all-star worthy player for years to come. The WAR pace he’s on, right now, says he’s only getting better. The biggest question about Whit was whether he’d be able to maintain the power and the answer is that it’s dropped a bit as many expected. But he’s gotten better because his walk rate has doubled. Is that maintainable? I have no idea. But I’m no longer in a position where I want to bet against Whit Merrifield. His season isn’t the only one going just about as well as imaginable, though...
The Royals are having a perfect storm season
The Royals are on pace to lose 100 games. That sounds pretty bad. But the reality is it’s probably the best result for this team. The more games they lose, the sooner they get to draft again. The sooner they draft the better chance they have to get a superstar prospect. But they’re not just losing. They’re losing while all of the most important pieces play well. Mike Moustakas and Kelvin Herrera figured to be the Royals best trade chips and they’re only increasing their value. Jakob Junis and Jorge Soler figured to be the most important pieces for the future and they are also playing fairly well (or at least they were until Soler broke his left toe and Junis gave up three more home runs...) Brad Keller has worked out extremely well as a Rule 5 Draft pick, too.
Things are actually going significantly better in the minors than anyone could have hoped for, as well. Seuly Matias has homered his way on to a top 100 prospect list. Khalil Lee has walked at an astonishing rate and started hitting for a bit of power, too. Nicky Lopez picked up right where he left off in the Arizona Fall League, walking more often than he strikes out. And perhaps the biggest development is that Josh Staumont looks like he might have finally figured out how to throw a reasonable number of strikes with his incredibly impressive stuff. It’s far, far too early to read any definitive future in his results, so far. But it’s also not a stretch to say that he’s literally never shown this much command for even this long, before.
Not everything is rosy in the minor leagues - Nick Pratto is not making the progress we’d all like, Adalberto Mondesi is struggling a bit despite Bill Simmons’ assertions, and Richard Lovelady hasn’t dominated AAA the way we all hoped - but prospects rarely follow a straight line to the big leagues, anyway. But I think the Royals system might have been bumped up several more places if anyone had guessed that Staumont, Lee, and Matias would be producing the way they have, so far. Speaking of things not proceeding as planned...
Royals Review is a great place to write because of Max Rieper
At the risk of some non-baseball talk, I just wanted to take a minute to use my platform to praise our site manager for all the hard work he puts in on this website. Max gives us writers not just the freedom but the support to write the things we want to write. He - and the other mods, Matt LaMar and Josh Duggan - give the community here what seems, to me, the best possible freedom to have discussions where disagreements are allowed to be discussed but trolls and people who live only to insult others are removed in order to foster an environment where those discussions can be had with little fear of personal assault.
The work of those three, in particular, has helped to grow a community here that I am proud to contribute to. I know that I, personally, have learned a lot about writing and even how to interact with others in a positive way from them. I hope everyone here realizes just how lucky we all are to have such a great team working their asses off so that we have a terrific place to gather for conversation about the Royals, baseball, and everything else under the sun.