As Whit Merrifield is set to enter his age-31 season, how does he stack up against another KC Royals legend when he was the same age?
Alex Gordon is one of the greatest players in KC Royals franchise history. He’s going to have his number retired by the team one day, and he more than deserves it. Seven Gold Glove awards, plenty of highlights plays and endless testimonials on his ability to leave a positive impact on a clubhouse. An entire career with the same team. They simply don’t make them like Gordon anymore.
Whit Merrifield has also carved out quite a productive career in Kansas City. The former South Carolina Gamecock standout didn’t debut until he was 27 years old. Since that point, he’s been arguably the best player on the team. Merrifield’s versatility and leadership have earned him a ton of respect throughout the league. As he moves to center field this season, he’ll look to keep that reputation intact.
While Gordon and Merrifield’s careers have followed separate trajectories and they’re certainly different players, the similarities are more obvious than you think. For example, Gordon didn’t break through until his age-27 season. That’s when Merrifield had his major breakthrough: an MLB debut.
In 2015, Gordon was a 31-year-old veteran tasked with being a leader while remaining on top of his game. Merrifield is 31 years old and in the same boat, although the team surrounding him is in a completely different circumstance than the 2015 World Series squad. At any rate, the pressure is on for Merrifield to lead by example in the clubhouse and put up his best numbers when on the field.
Gordon had an extremely impressive five-year peak. Merrifield is entering his fifth season with the Royals — all during his athletic prime. Here’s a comparison between prime Gordon and what we’ve seen of Merrifield thus far:
- Gordon 2011-2015: .281/.359/.450 line, .809 OPS, 121 OPS+, 39 2B/162G
- Merrifield 2016-2019: .296/.344/.445 line, .789 OPS, 110 OPS+, 41 2B/162G
This comparison proves a couple of things. First and foremost, people sometimes forget how terrific prime “Gordo” was both at the plate and in left field. Simply put, he was one of the best players in baseball for five-straight years. Secondly, Merrifield has been a model of consistency since being promoted four seasons ago. Regardless of how many games are played in 2020, we know what we’re going to get from him.
The KC Royals are going through a youth movement of sorts. Some pieces are already on the big-league roster, while others should join the team in a year’s time (or close to it). Who better to usher in those players than Merrifield? He’s the consummate professional — a player that will work hard on a daily basis and is well-respected by his peers. He’s damn good at what he does, too.
Gordon is going down as an all-time KC Royals great despite being a bit of a late bloomer. If Merrifield ages well, he could enter the same territory several years down the road.