In yet another fantasy baseball player spotlight here at Fantasy Alarm, we are going to take a look at a potential buy-low player in Whit Merrifield of the Kansas City Royals. As a consensus top-tier second baseman in preseason fantasy baseball rankings, Merrifield’s seven stolen bases have given fantasy baseball managers quite the boost. Outside of that, though, a .221 batting average hasn’t done anyone any favors with managers scouring the fantasy baseball waiver wire or making trades for roster help. With about a quarter of the season already in the rearview mirror, is Merrifield a fantasy baseball trade target or is he trending towards a fantasy baseball bust? The answer, my friends, is that he’s an ideal trade target and a fantasy baseball buy-low opportunity right now. Let's take a closer look at the Kansas City infielder and what he means for your fantasy baseball lineups moving forward.
Whit Merrifield Fantasy Baseball Player Spotlight
What has happened this year with Merrifield? Has Father Time caught up to him? Perhaps, but I’d more so be looking towards his outlier .229 BABIP and a sizable jump in soft contact rate. Beyond that, Merrifield's contact is down a little bit, and while it is worth mentioning, just a couple of percentage points isn’t going to move the needle a ton in the grand scheme of things.
For his career, Merrifield has a .324 BABIP. This year, though, that mark sits at just .229. The difference between his xwOBA and wOBA is -0.077, which is tied for the 13th largest differential amongst qualified hitters in Major League Baseball.
In terms of power production, the harder contact and increased launch angle serve a player well – but that just isn’t the name of Merrifield’s game. A reduction in line drives and ground balls at the expense of an elevated fly ball rate could be partly to blame for his slow start to the 2022 season. For a player with a batted ball profile like Merrifield's, fly balls aren’t going to lead to overwhelming success. Take a look at some of his statistics, specifically on fly balls over the years:
AVG on Fly Balls
AVG on GB/LD
Courtesy of FanGraphs
For a frame of reference, the league average on fly balls sits at .211 thus far in 2022 with a .376 average on ground balls and line drives.
There’s no denying that the start of Whit Merrifield’s 2022 season has been underwhelming outside of his seven stolen bases. His .221 batting average would be well below his career average of .287. While it may be hard to buy low on a guy like Merrifield who is still above average in terms of stolen bases, there’s an opportunity to be had with Merrifield from here moving forward. Consider this:
- He’s hitting just .221 on the year, but his xBA sits at .272. His career xBA is .274.
- His average exit velocity (87.6 mph) is at its highest since 2017, and is slightly above his career average mark (87.1).
- His .453 xSLG would be his highest mark in his professional career.
- His xWOBA of .328 is drastically higher than his .246 mark.
It’s hard to believe that Merrifield will continue to underperform in terms of his batting average, while most of his batted ball profile is on par with recent years – or perhaps even slightly better. I believe that added contact will come, and Merrifield’s worst month or two in terms of production are the first two to open up the year. Overall for his entire career, he has hit at least .280 in every month except March and April – where he is a .248 career hitter. As the weather warms, so does his bat, and we should see that play out again in 2022. He’s hitting .359 over his last 15 games and an even .300 over his last seven games, not to mention hitting safely in five straight and in 15 of his last 16.
Let me throw this last thing in here. Do you know why I love trying to target Merrifield in roto leagues? Despite hitting just .221 through the first quarter of the season, his 162-game pace comes out to 11 home runs, 77 runs scored, 69 RBI, and 26 stolen bases. Imagine what those numbers will look like as the weather, and subsequently his bat, start to get hotter…
The opportunity to buy at its lowest has likely already passed, but he should be no worse than a top-seven player at the position for the rest of the season. That's while hitting for a good average and continuing to be excellent in the stolen base department. If there is a fantasy baseball manager in your league who maybe needs help with power or batting average and they simply cannot wait for Merrifield, start sending offers to them immediately.
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