Whit Merrifield sprinting to a key role In Blue Jays lineup
By Dave Litman
It seems like ages ago that Whit Merrifield was almost a forgotten man in the Toronto Blue Jays' plans for 2023. All the attention, understandably, was on what Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, George Springer, and even newcomer Daulton Varsho could bring to the Jays' offence.
Merrifield wasn't necessarily top of mind due to his middling performance last season, batting .250 on the year, nearly 40 points below his career mark, while stealing only one base in his 44 games after coming over to Toronto at the trade deadline.
But here we are just over a month into the season, and Merrifield—who wasn't even guaranteed a starting job when the season began—is off and running to one of the hottest starts on the ballclub. Merrifield batted .320 in April, with 10 runs, 10 RBIs and four stolen bases, while putting a lock on the starting second baseman's job.
Those four April bags put him on a 24-SB pace... Not bad for most players. But this is a guy who can swipe 40 bases—he's done it twice in the last five seasons and was on a pace close to that in the shortened 2020 season as well.
Then came Friday night: Merrifield pilfered three bases off the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Jays' 4-0 losing-streak-busting victory, bumping his total to seven on the season.
Friday's outburst included a dynamic steal of third:
As noted on the broadcast Friday night after his trio of swipes, Merrifield leads all of the major leagues over the past seven years in stealing third base: 61 in that span, in 66 attempts. Analyst Joe Siddall added that it's Whit's "baseball IQ" that allows him to be such a force at stealing third:
"When you're stealing 3rd base... pitchers do not pay enough attention. A pitcher will come set, and sometimes they'll give you one look then look back at the catcher and deliver it to home. They get into patterns, and when pitchers get into patterns like that, these guys here (like Merrifield) will just beat you up."
With those wheels now in motion on a 35-SB pace, while maintaining a .300 average, Merrifield will hopefully continue to "beat up" on opposing pitchers—at the plate and on the basepaths.