Toronto Blue Jays 2023 Season Preview: UTIL Whit Merrifield
Next up in our 2023 Toronto Blue Jays season preview series is utility player Whit Merrifield.
Addison Barger, Anthony Bass, Chris Bassitt, Brandon Belt, José Berríos, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Matt Chapman, Adam Cimber, Hagen Danner, Santiago Espinal, Matt Gage, Yimi García, Kevin Gausman, Chad Green, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Thomas Hatch, Spencer Horwitz, Danny Jansen, Leo Jimenez, Kevin Kiermaier, Yusei Kikuchi, Alejandro Kirk, Otto Lopez, Nathan Lukes, Alek Manoah, Orelvis Martinez, Tim Mayza
Here's a quick refresher on the projection systems we're using and their predictions for Merrifield's upcoming season.
STEAMER: 487 PA, 10 HR, 49 RBI, 57 R, 20 SB, .259/.306/.386, 98 wRC+, 1.2 WAR
ZiPS DC: 504 PA, 10 HR, 56 RBI, 65 R, 16 SB, .251/.298/.378, 92 wRC+, 0.9 WAR
THE BAT: 504 PA, 10 HR, 51 RBI, 62 R, 18 SB, .259/.308/.385, 98 wRC+, 1.5 WAR
2022 stats: 550 PA, 11 HR, 58 RBI, 70 R, 16 SB, .250/.298/.375, 88 wRC+, 1.5 WAR
Note: ZiPS DC projections are pro-rated for the playing time indicated by Roster Resource Depth Charts on FanGraphs.
Merrifield, 34, had a hard time getting his footing as a Blue Jay last season after being acquired from the Royals. But once he got going, he was a revelation at the bottom of the lineup.
Over his first month in Toronto, as he adjusted to his new team, he hit .214 with a miserable 60 wRC+.
Perhaps it was the realization that he had a chance to play in the postseason, something he hadn't done in his Kansas City career, but in his second month, Merrifield really turned it on. He hit .338 with an impressive 172 wRC+ as he helped the club secure the first Wild Card position.
He finished his two months with the Jays with a 119 wRC+, well above the 79 wRC+ he posted over the first four months with the Royals.
The projection systems all think Merrifield will be a solid contributor at the bottom of the lineup, acting as a table-setter, along with Kevin Kiermaier, for the top of the order.
FanGraphs' Roster Resource predicts that he will be the starting second baseman, at least to begin the season. In reality, Merrifield could be in a year-long battle for the job with 2022 All-Star Santiago Espinal. He could also see time in the outfield this season, as the team has yet to add an established fourth outfielder.
While Merrifield isn't the speedster he once was, he placed in the 84th percentile in Statcast Sprint Speed last season. So he can still move and will help the Jays play John Schneider's aggressive baserunning style.
The new rules that encourage more base stealing will help the seven-year veteran. Steamer projects him for 20 steals, while the other systems think he'll get into the mid-to-high teens.
However, if he's motivated and given the green light, he could eclipse those totals. It was only a short time ago, in 2021, that he collected 40 steals.
Another dimension Merrifield brings to the lineup is his bat skills. He's not going to win any home run derbies, although he might hit double-digit homers, according to the projections.
What he will do is make contact and avoid strikeouts. With a 15.5% strikeout rate last season, he placed in the 85th percentile in K% and the 82nd percentile in Whiff%.
Despite Merrifield's acquisition being overshadowed by the team's offseason moves, there's a real chance he becomes an integral part of the Blue Jays' revamped style of play and culture in 2023.
As Chris Black of Sportsnet explains, he thinks Merrifield can contribute in multiple ways, from his baserunning to his defense.