Despite the Royals best efforts, Hunter Dozier came in second in the final fan voting for the All-Star game, finishing second to Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros. Unfortunately for Kansas City baseball fans, this leaves the Royals with no guarantees of an All-Star. (But hey, at least he finished higher than Gio Ursehla of the Yankees!) Royals beat writer Jeff Flanagan gave the exact details of the voting results on Twitter, though he kept an optimistic lens about not just Dozier, but another Royals player who could be a candidate.
It’s possible that Dozier could get voted in, simply because it’s hard to ignore one of the most prolific hitters in baseball during the 2019 first half. However, Merrifield is an interesting conundrum for the American League as they prepare for the midsummer classic: while he doesn’t display Dozier’s power or overall offensive profile, Merrifield is one of the better average-speed hitters in the American League, currently, and he has a ton of position versatility. If the AL was serious about winning the 2019 All-Star game in Cleveland, Merrifield would be on the roster with no hesitation.
Unfortunately, much like the Royals overall fortunes this year, it seems like Merrifield, with his diverse skill set and solid first half in 2019, will go ignored when the All-Star game kicks off in Progressive Field on July 8th.
The problem that Merrifield ran into this year with his candidacy stems from his main strength as a player: position versatility. When the Royals called up Nicky Lopez, the move forced Merrifield to the outfield to make room for the sweet-swinging middle infielder from Omaha. While on paper, Merrifield can play the outfield, his metrics suggest that second base, not the outfield, is a better fit. Let’s take a look at some of his defensive metrics at 2B this year, and compare it to his metrics in the OF, according to Fangraphs:
- 1.7 UZR, 6.2 UZR/150, 0.7 range runs above average, 0.5 error runs above average in 283 innings at 2B in 2019.
- -1.6 UZR, -5.7 UZR/150, negative-1.4 range runs above average, 0.3 errors runs above average in 361.1 innings in the outfield in 2019.
As a second-baseman, Whit is a slightly above average defensive player. Is he flashy? Of course not, but his advanced metrics show that he can hold the position well compared to a replacement level player. Unfortunately, the outfield is a different story: he lacks instincts in the outfield (hence the poor range runs above average numbers), and he doesn’t exactly make the plays in the outfield like he does in the infield.
So how does this impact Whit’s All-Star candidacy?
Well, if you judge him offensively with other AL second-basemen, Whit is one of the best offensive players at his position. His .303/.349/.502 slash line is one of the most impressive lines for a second-baseman in the American League, with only the Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu sporting a more impressive line (.336/.385/.522). However, as I mentioned before in the Dozier piece when comparing him to Urshela, when you take into consideration park factors (Yankee Stadium being more hitter friendly than Kauffman), then I would argue that Whit’s numbers are just as impressive if not more than the Pinstripes’ rep, as LeMahieu’s may benefit from Yankee Stadium (and AL East in general) inflation.
But, what kills Whit’s candidacy are the defensive metrics. According to Def, he ranks third-worst out of qualified AL second-basemen, ahead of only the Athletics’ Jurickson Profar and Orioles’ Jonathan Villar. Safe to say, no one is considering either of those players All-Star candidates by a long shot, and the fact that Merrifield languishes in their company is not a good sign if he’s trying to prove that he merits an All-Star reserve position.
However, as stated before, a lot of his negative defensive value stems from his play in the OUTFIELD, not at SECOND BASE. If he had stayed as the regular Royals second-baseman all year, it’s possible that his Def rating would be not only average, but most likely above. And if his defense had a higher value, it’s likely that his 2.0 WAR, which currently ranks 4th for AL second baseman, would be higher as well, making him a more intriguing All-Star candidate.
It is unlikely that Whit will get the benefit of the doubt and be listed as a reserve infielder for this All-Star game. He’s proven with his bat that he deserves a spot in this game, but it’s unlikely he’ll get the opportunity due to a.) him not making the final round of voting and b.) Red Sox manager Alex Cora preferring someone he is more familiar with (either with the Red Sox or another AL East team). Add in his questionable defensive metrics, and it seems like Whit will see another solid campaign go ignored by the fans and media.
It’s sad that Whit will get screwed like this once again. He plays multiple positions not just to help himself, but to help them team, as his ability to play the outfield gives Ned Yost options with the current mishmash roster he has on hand. Merrifield could easily be selfish, refuse to play the outfield or other positions, knowing that playing other positions could decrease his value, and hence hurt his chance at making big-time money down the road. But Whit is above that pettiness, and unfortunately, that attitude has served as a blow to his All-Star candidacy, when in all reality, it should serve as a boost.
The All-Star game should be a showcase of not only the best of baseball, but the best of those who are most valuable to their organizations across the league. No one on this Royals team has been more valuable to Kansas City in the past two seasons than Whit, and he deserves to be recognized on a big stage.
It’s a shame that those watching the midsummer classic in Cleveland, both in the stands and on TV, most likely won’t see him and the impact that he brings to the Royals each and every day. Instead, they will get more Yankees and Astros and Red Sox, as if that’s what baseball fans really want outside of New York, Boston and Houston.