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Bridges of Fantasy County: It’s Whit!

Bridges of Fantasy County: It’s Whit!


Estimated Reading Time: 8 Minutes

Here’s a couple of things that may surprise you:

1. I have a girlfriend. I know! It’s hard to believe that a dude who writes about fantasy baseball in his spare time could actually be in a relationship with a real, live, breathing female. But it’s true. She’s quite lovely, in fact.

2. My girlfriend has had to deal with the fact that I have a big, ol’ man crush on the Kansas City Royals’ second baseman, Whit Merrifield.

Just look at that big, dopey grin! What’s not to like? That’s right. Nothing can be done to quench the fire that is my love for ‘Lit’ Merrifield. That’s what I like to call him, by the way. He’s totally cool with it too. I recently slid into his DMs, and he was all…’heck yeah you can call me Lit! It’s Lit!’

It is indeed lit, Whit.

Anyways, if you are not hip to the ways of this power-speed dynamo on the suddenly-surging Royals, then allow me to educate you. Here are 10 reasons, in no particular order, why I am currently going nuts about the pride of Advance, North Carolina.

This is where Advance, NC is. That is where he's from.  This is where Advance, NC is. That is where he’s from.

10 THINGS I LOVE ABOUT WHIT

1. It’s lit! Sorry. Just really wanted to say lit again. The kids are saying it a lot these days, and I am at an age where I really feel my youth slipping away from me. Using their lingo really helps me hang on to the last bit of my twenties that I have left. The same principle can be applied to my receding hairline. HEY-OOOO!

Back to baseball. The real first reason is that I am a known, unabashed SEC homer. I am well known in my fantasy leagues as being such, and I will take any opportunity to bang the drum for the SEC (aka the greatest conference money can buy…hey…never said I wasn’t a realist) whenever I can.

That being said, did you know that Whit Merrifield grew up in North Carolina (the home of the Hickory Bats!) and played baseball for the University of South Carolina? That makes him a pecan pie loving, sweet tea chugging southerner like yours truly. And that pretty much ends what makes me proud of being from the South. I KNOW I KNOW…not the time or place. MOVING ON.

2. He’s currently the 6th ranked second baseman on ESPN’s player rater for the season. This is a guy I, and many other lucky owners, acquired off the waiver wire around mid-May. Since then, he’s turned into a top 10 option at 2B and a valuable piece of my 1st place ‘Actors Who Like Sports’ team, Blackmon’s Semien. Guess which two players I have that made up that name…

Anyways, Merrifield has contributed in a myriad of categories, but it’s really the surge in power that has been the most pleasant surprise. More on that later…

3. 56 R/14 HR/56 RBI/22 SB

That’s his 2017 stat line heading into the Friday night games. The Royals play at 6:15 tonight where I currently am, so this line won’t be totally irrelevant until sometime later tonight at least. But LOOK AT THAT LINE! My goodness if that doesn’t rustle your jimmies. Sure, it’s no Cody Bellinger, but what we have is a very solid contributor across the board that you acquired for well…nothing on draft day. Even the most generous of forecasters never would have guessed the possibility of a 20/20 season. 22 stolen bases and 14 homeruns halfway through August from a middle infielder you picked up for peanuts in May? Sign me up.

4. Triple Slash: .287/.325/.471

Merrifield has danced around .300 for a good portion of the season, and what once looked like a hot month has turned into a full season of a very usable batting average. He does leave a little to be desired in the walks category, which explains the pedestrian OBP, but the slugging is massively increased from anything we’ve seen from him before.

For comparison’s sake, in his 332 plate appearances during his Major League debut last season, he had 44 R/2 HR/29 RBI/8 SB to go with a .283/.323/.392 triple slash. He’s had over 100 more plate appearances this season to amass his impressive line, it’s true, but the increase in power is what really stands out from one season to the next.

So, if you’re keeping score at home, that’s 14 HRs and 22 SBs to go along with a near .300 batting average plus decent contributions in runs and RBI. LIT!

5. Lit is versatile! He has played all over the dang field this season. He’s seen time at second base, third base, first base, left field, right field, bench coach, bat boy, scoreboard operator, etc. He’s done it all! In fact, rumor has it that he’s the best Cracker Jack tosser Kauffman Stadium has ever seen.

In all seriousness, we all go batty for multi-positional guys, and if your league has some liberal eligibility rules, you can do whatever you want with this little snowflake. Get it? Liberal? Snowflake? ENOUGH WITH THE POLITICAL TALK THIS IS A FANTASY BASEBALL ARTICLE BLARGH!

6. Everyone and their mamma is obsessed with improved launch angles this year. After all, it’s the only logical explanation outside of ‘hey the ball is most definitely and totally juiced this season.

Merrifield is yet another player who can chalk up his 2017 increased power to at least some kind of launch angle improvement. According to Baseball Savant, he’s up about a cool 5 degrees from his half-season last year, and that has resulted in way more jacked dongs for Whit.

To piggyback off of that, his flyball percentage has rocketed up to an astounding 43.2%, which is significantly higher than the 29.8% he sported last year. That’s a massive change and fully supports the increase in power.

Did I mention he has increased his power yet? It’s lit.

7. As much as we get our rocks off to launch angle in 2017, we get just as moist talking about exit velocity. Has he improved there? Would I be bringing up exit velocity if he hadn’t? That wouldn’t make much sense, now would it? Are you tired of my barrage of questions yet? Would you like me to ask one more question to tie up reason #7?

What happens when a player increases his launch angle and also improves the exit velocity on his batted balls from 84 MPH to 87 MPH? Anyone want to take a guess? Have we learned nothing from the 2017 season?

8. Whew! That was a lot of questions, but we made it through somehow. Reason #8 I love Whit Merrifield this season: K% is down to 13.4% from 21.7% a year ago. That’s a pretty significant drop. That means he’s showing some nice improved plate discipline and a big step forward for the 28-year-old. Wait…28 years old??! And he’s just now breaking out?! Oh geez….*has slight panic attack*

9. *breathes deeply into the bottom of his stomach and counts to 10…calms down from panic attack. Has a snack. Hides under a blanket and puts on Moana on Netflix* Ok, I’m better now.

Reason #9 to love Whit. I did some deep diving into Whit’s stats on Baseball Savant to see if there was a major change besides launch angle that could explain his sudden offensive increase. What I found was in the types of pitches he was having success against. One in particular stood out to me, in fact. Lo and behold…it’s the slider.

In 2016, he saw 209 sliders and hit a pedestrian .208 against them. He garnered just 10 hits and 36 whiffs against the pitch. Bottom line: he wasn’t very successful against that mean, ol’ slider.

Fast forward to 2017. Grampa Merrifield has seen the pitch 311 times this season but now has a .310 mark against the pitch. He has 22 hits and now 4 homeruns to boot. I don’t know if he’s just developed a keener eye for the movement or if pitchers are just real lazy when they throw him the pitch. Either way, he’s killing it. Imagine this scenario:

“Oh…Whit Merrifield? Yawn! I’ll just lob a fat slider across the plate. *DONG* NOOOOOO….”-an AL pitcher probably. Like CC!

10. He’s only 83.8% owned in ESPN leagues! What the heck?! Let’s chalk that up to a few leagues being comprised mostly of dudes who started fantasy football research in June. Hopefully, the dudes in my league start following suit, and I can surge up to the top. I can dream, can’t I? The real purpose of Reason #10 is to pat myself on the back for jumping on him before somebody else did. Good job, Jake! You’re a winner. That’s all I got here.

Whit Merrifield is an interesting case in 2017. He’s a 28-year-old ‘prospect’ blossoming for a team that just refuses to die in the wild card race this year. I can’t think of a better example of someone who has taken advantage of the juiced ball more than him. Yes, he has improved his launch angle and exit velocity and flyball percentage blah blah blah, but keep in mind his ISO is about 40 points higher than his career average in the minors. Regression may not happen dramatically in the last 6 weeks of the regular season, but I would expect a drop off next year.

Regardless of juiced balls, deflated balls, 28-year-old balls…Whit Merrifield is having an undeniably, unexpectedly great season. He’s on pace to record a 20 HR/30 SB season out of nowhere, and those of us lucky enough to have jumped on the wagon are reaping the rewards from this breakout.

Should you roster Merrifield in dynasty expecting this kind of production for the next couple of seasons? I would advise against it if the price is too high. But hey…as long as the fire is hot, might as well keep that kettle boiling!

Good luck down the stretch, and stay lit. LIKE THIS GUY!!!

Follow me on Twitter @jakebridges03

Jake is an NYC based actor who loves to put off daily responsibilities by writing and researching about all things fantasy baseball and college football. He is a life long Auburn Tigers fan, and yes, he does have the same SEC bias as ESPN. Most days, he can be found reminiscing about the 1990s Braves teams or complaining about their rebuild. Auburn 26 Alabama 14. #WDE

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