Breakout seasons past the age of 27 often cause apprehension for fantasy players in baseball. However, Whit Merrifield carried over his breakout from 2017 into last season. In fact, Merrifield became only the third player since World War II to lead the majors in hits and stolen bases. He joins Dee Gordon (2015) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) in doing so. Merrifield’s season also ended in the midst of a 20-game hit streak during which he slashed .318/.375/.482, which will pick up to start in 2019.

Although his home run total dropped last season compared to 2017, Merrifield still returned solid value to his owners with 88 runs, 12 home runs, 60 RBI, 45 stolen bases and a .304/.367/.438 line in 158 games. He combined with teammate Adalberto Mondesí to steal a combined 55 bases in 64 attempts in the second half. Kansas City finished the year ranked fourth in stolen base tries (0.96 per game), added Billy Hamilton and will look to play strong defense and be aggressive on the bases to compete in the year ahead.

This will be important for Merrifield’s fantasy status since his team will continue to run with reckless abandonment on the bases securing his gains in steals. However, Merrifield also improved at the plate increasing his hard-hit rate by 6.3 percent and growing his walk percentage by four percent. Yes, Merrifield did strike out more, but gains in BABIP and growth in his on-base skills outweigh them.

While BABIP can be fluky, it’s worthwhile to explore Merrifield’s expected statistics. According to xSTATS, Merrifield should have slashed .284/.351/.408 with an xOBA (on-base average) of .332 last season. Compare this number to his wOBA of .319 and Merrifield should not see too much of a decline within his on-base abilities. Over the last two years, Merrifield owns a .287 expected batting average which can be used to try and project his average going forward. Given the recent decline in average, this enhances Merrifield’s status.

Steamer projects Merrifield to appear in 150 games with 82 runs, 12 home runs, 60 RBI, 31 stolen bases and a .274/.329/.405 slash. During the last two years, Merrifield’s averaging 84 runs, 15 home runs, 69 RBI, 40 stolen bases and a .297/.348/.449 line. Early NFBC average draft position sees him as the 32nd player taken overall with a high pick of 21st and a low selection of 47th overall.

If early trends translate to the 2019 draft season, speed will be targeted above average draft positions. It’s clear the decline in stolen bases in baseball resonates with fantasy owners, so plan accordingly. Part of the appeal in targeting Merrifield lies within his ability to accrue counting statistics across all categories, not be a one trick pony like his new teammate, Billy Hamilton . Merrifield will be 30 this season, but his speed should not decline based upon his team, spot in the lineup and second half surge from last season.

In regard to his projection by Steamer, take the over on runs and steals, figure the average to align with his expected average of .287 and hope he hits his two-year numbers for runs along with RBI. There’s not going to be another level to Merrifield in 2019, but he does represent a solid baseline of value for owners looking to secure steals without hurting its team average.


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