For the second consecutive season, Kansas City Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield will likely lead the American League in hits.
200 hits is an impressive feat. Whit Merrifield said it was a goal of his going into this season after leading the American League with 192 hits a year ago. Entering Monday, Whit Merrifield has an even 200 hits, eight ahead of New York Yankees’ DJ LeMaheiu. Assuming he can remain steady for the Kansas City Royals in the final five games, Merrifield will become the first right-handed batter since Kirby Puckett to lead the league in hits in back-to-back seasons.
Puckett accomplished that feat back in the 1988 and 1989 seasons and went on to have a pretty decent career. All satire aside, Merrifield has been exactly what I already mentioned: steady. He’s never had a batting average lower than 0.287 this season and his numbers have looked relatively the same for each month.
On Sunday, Merrifield dumped a 2-2 pitch in the top half of the 6th inning into shallow left field marking his 200th hit of the season and his third hit of the day. I think what I respect most about Merrifield, besides his work ethic, is that he doesn’t have unrealistic expectations.
He knows exactly what type of player he is and sets his goals accordingly:
"“I could set a goal to hit 40 homers, but realistically I’m probably not going to do that. I’m a hit guy,” Merrifield said. “I don’t walk a lot. I don’t care to walk really. I want to go out, step up and hit. So having that mindset, having that mentality and having that be a part of my game, I felt like 200 hits was a good goal for me to try to go get. I’m just happy that I could accomplish that goal.” – Kansas City Star"
There has been a lot of recent discussion regarding Merrifield’s future with the team. He generated a lot of interest at the trade deadline from several teams in the National League but Royals General Manager was not able to part with his versatile infielder. He’ll be 31 when the 2020 season starts and is under contract through the 2022 season with a club option for 2023 as well.
Merrifield could have easily tested the free-agent market but chose to sign a very modest four-year extension worth just $16.3 million. Several players in this league make that salary per season and one could make a very good argument that Merrifield is more valuable than some of those players. He said it himself. He’s not going to hit a ton of home runs. Understanding that and focusing on what he can do for this team has led to his success.
Merrifield is a premier lead-off hitter in a league that doesn’t seem to quite appreciate the role as much as previous seasons. It will be interesting to see what happens with him this offseason under new direction. I could see several scenarios unfolding with one of those being to build around him in the next couple of years with the hope that he can be a part of the next competitive Royals team.