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2021 Season in Review: Whit Merrifield

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There is one constant in baseball - Whit Merrifield.

Kansas City Royals v Detroit Tigers Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The common refrain on this site for years was “Death. Taxes. Escobar.” in reference to ironman Alcides Escobar’s constant presence in the lineup - even if his bat made that a questionable proposition. But now the meme might have to be adjusted to “Death. Taxes. Merrifield” after Whit surpassed Escobar to break the club consecutive games-played mark. Merrifield has played in every game since June 24, 2018, spanning 469 games. At this current pace, he will break Cal Ripken’s Major League consecutive games played record of 2,632 by June of 2035.

Unlike Escobar, however, Merrifield has been a solid bat at the top of the lineup. In just six years in the league, he has a lot of “black ink” on his Baseball-Reference page. He has led the league in:

  • Games played (2019, 2020, 2021)
  • At-bats (2019, 2020, 2021)
  • Hits (2018, 2019)
  • Doubles (2021)
  • Triples (2019)
  • Stolen bases (2017, 2018, 2021)
  • Caught stealing (2019)

Now that Whit is in his 30s, he has begun to decline - his OPS decreased for the fourth consecutive season - but he has managed his decline well. He is still a very valuable player - a 3.3 WAR player, according to Fangraphs, good for 13th among 25 qualified second basemen. He led the league in steals for the third time, and was sixth among all players in Baserunning Runs, which creates a lot of value.

He also created a lot of value with a fantastic defensive season. He led all second basemen in Defensive Runs Saved, finished a slight second in Ultimate Zone Rating, and second in Defensive Runs Above Average, which will give him a solid chance at earning his first Gold Glove Award.

The bat has dropped off a bit with a 91 wRC+, 21st among 25 qualified second baseman and his first wRC+ below 100 since his rookie season. His hard-hit rate is in the bottom ten percent in baseball, and his exit velocity is not much better. On the other hand, he’s still among the league leaders in contact rate and is one of the best at going the opposite way.

Whit Merrifield 2019-2021

Year BA OBA SLG wRC+ BABIP BB% K% Hard Hit%
Year BA OBA SLG wRC+ BABIP BB% K% Hard Hit%
2019 .302 .348 .463 110 .350 6.1% 17.1% 29.1%
2020 .282 .325 .440 106 .295 4.5% 12.5% 27.3%
2021 .277 .317 .395 91 .309 5.6% 14.3% 28.8%

Much has been made about resting Salvy at DH to keep him healthy into his 30s, but there should probably be some discussion at managing Whit’s load as well. He has been a physical freak in his ability to avoid injury and stay in the lineup, but that will get harder as he ages (trust me, I know!). He might benefit from the occasional day off to recharge his batteries, and perhaps some occasional time in the outfield can help him avoid injuries, even as it takes his Gold Glove-caliber defense off second base.

Still, Whit has been a gamer, constantly in the lineup, setting the table. Next year is the last guaranteed year of his deal (for which he will be paid the ridiculously low sum of $2.75 million), and the Royals hold a $6.5 million club option for 2023 that they will almost certainly exercise. After that, who knows? Whit will be 35 for the 2024 season, and since 1995 there have only been 20 times where a 35+ year old second-baseman has posted even a 1 WAR season as a qualified hitter. But if Whit is still a terrific player well into his 30s, it wouldn’t be the first time he has surpassed expectations.

Poll

What grade would you give Whit Merrifield?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    A
    (112 votes)
  • 55%
    B
    (159 votes)
  • 5%
    C
    (17 votes)
  • 0%
    D
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    F
    (0 votes)
289 votes total Vote Now