Merrifield was the 60th most valuable position player in all of baseball in 2017, according to FanGraphs. This is remarkable for a player whose career-high for home runs in a minor league season was nine back in 2012 and who was playing in merely his second MLB season at the age of 28.
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The second baseman became a phenomenal story in 2017. He seemingly saved the season by producing in the leadoff spot and brought much-needed stability to the Kansas City Royals lineup. Merrifield led the American League in stolen bases and found a way to hit 19 home runs. He plays a marvelous second base and fills in nicely in left field when needed.
Merrifield benefitted from the juiced balls in 2017 (quit denying it). I worry about his ability to duplicate his numbers in the future. Merrifield is a player who relies on his speed to a certain extent. And, entering his age 29 season, he’s not going to get any faster.
He does have a couple of things going for him, though. MLB had some success with fans in 2017, and I doubt they’ll stop juicing the balls anytime soon. He also wasn’t propped up by any ridiculous peripheral stats in 2017 (like his .361 BABIP in 2016). Most of the time, one would think that this would project well for a budding player.
One problem is that Merrifield didn’t handle pitches on the outer half of the plate well last season, and this could be a recurring issue if pitchers start refusing to give him fastballs inside. He’s also going to be 29 at the beginning of the season, which means, much like Alexander, the best years of his career may be behind him. His average home run distance was feet shorter than the major league average, and his average launch angle was nearly five degrees higher than the MLB average.
I don’t think anyone should expect Merrifield to produce better numbers than he put up in 2017. That being said, I do think he’s capable of putting up 2-2.5 WAR (compared to 3.1 WAR in 2017).
What do you think? Who is due to trend upward in 2018, and who is due to come back down? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.