Underrated and Overrated: Scooter Gennett and Whit Merrifield Edition

2017 was the year of unexpected late-20s middle-infield breakouts, as the fantasy leaderboards at both second base and shortstop were populated by a number of players nearing 30 who went undrafted in the vast majority of leagues. Now that we have some draft data thanks to the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC), I figured it might be interesting to see which of these options fantasy owners are buying into going forward.

The players in question today include second basemen Whit Merrifield and Scooter Gennett. Let’s start with a quick look at where these guys finished 2017, and where they’re being drafted heading into 2018.

2017 Overall Rank 2018 Overall ADP 2017 2B Rank 2018 2B ADP
Merrifield 23 69.9 4 7
Gennett 87 192.8 13 18

The first thing I noticed is that not many fantasy owners expect either player to replicate their 2017 seasons, which is good! It’s unlikely that either of these guys are as good as they displayed last season, so this is a fine start. These seem like reasonable expectations on the surface.

With any offseason fantasy baseball article, I think the most important thing to figure out is where the bargains are. Asking the question, “Who are fantasy owners over and underpaying for,” helps us set our own personal targets for draft day. Keeping this in mind, I think it’s pretty obvious where the value is here. Let’s see if you agree.

UNDERRATED

No one’s going to forget Gennett’s four-homer game from June, but it may be a bit easier to overlook the fact that he hit 27 total bombs last year. At least, I’m assuming that’s going overlooked, because even though he’s still only 27 years old, he’s currently being drafted in the early 17th round in standard leagues. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t see Scooter matching the numbers he put up last year, but at this price he should be a tremendous bargain regardless.

While Gennett did seemingly come out of nowhere in 2017, the trends that led to his success started showing up the year before:

GB/FB Oppo% Hard%
2015 1.63 31.6 22.1
2016 1.29 30.2 28.9
2017 1.1 23.8 34.4

Is his 20.8% HR/FB ratio from last year unsustainable? Sure, but on the other hand, when you start consistently pulling hard-hit balls in the air, it’s no surprise that you’d see a dramatic increase in power production. Along those same lines, is he going to hit for a .295 AVG again this year? Probably not, but then again, his .339 BABIP in 2017 was only a little bit higher than his career .327 BABIP.

Gennett didn’t even earn a full-time job until early June last year, whereas in 2018 he’ll likely be hitting in the middle of Cincy’s solid lineup all year long. Even if he falls on his face this year and reverts right back to where he was in 2015, he’s barely being drafted in the top 200 players. The risk couldn’t be much lower, and the potential reward is very attractive.

OVERRATED

As for Merrifield, the 29-year-old flashed a great power/speed combo last year, launching 19 bombs and swiping 34 bags while hitting for a .288 AVG. Furthermore, this year he’ll likely spend the whole year as KC’s leadoff man, after toiling away in the bottom third of the lineup for the first couple months of 2017. What’s not to like about that?

First off, I’ll be absolutely shocked if he hits 19 homers again. Heading into 2017, Merrifield had never hit more than 10 homers in any single season, at any level. While he did hit far more fly balls last year (0.93 GB/FB) than he did in 2016 (1.50 GB/FB), his 2017 batted-ball data looks an awful lot like what he did in 2014/2015 in the minors, when he hit just 13 total homers in 1,129 combined PA.

Next, the Royals are a much worse offense this year than last, even though they were a bottom-10 offense in most meaningful categories last year to begin with. Last season, this team was No. 23 in OPS, No. 24 in runs, No. 28 in OBP — and that was with the likes of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain, who are all (probably) gone for 2018.

This year, Merrifield will need guys like Jorge Bonifacio and Brandon Moss to drive him in, and if he wants any RBI of his own, he’ll need the likes of Paulo Orlando and Raul Mondesi to get on base at the bottom of the lineup. Finally, Merrifield refuses to take a walk, with a paltry 4.6% BB rate that was the 10th-worst rate among all qualified hitters in 2017, so he’s not on base enough to score many runs in the first place, regardless of who’s batting behind him.

Does this sound like a mid-6th round pick? To me, that’s not just a “no,” it’s an emphatic “hell no!”

THE VERDICT

In a vacuum, I would rather own Merrifield than Gennett. Based on their ADPs, I assume pretty much everyone agrees with that. However, Gennett in the 17th round is much more appealing to me than burning a 6th rounder on Merrifield. Merrifield may be the more valuable fantasy commodity, but he’s certainly not good enough to warrant the 123-player spread between his current ADP and Gennett’s.

We hoped you liked reading Underrated and Overrated: Scooter Gennett and Whit Merrifield Edition by Scott Strandberg!

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Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.

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bbboston
Member
bbboston

FWIW: I believe Merrifield adopted weight lifting before last season for the first time; he attributed his power spike to that, if memory serves.

ItsPoPtime
Member
ItsPoPtime

Im not a Royals fan, but having watched enough of their games he did look (naturally) bigger at the plate in 2017.

Anon
Member
Anon

According to this article, he bulked up in the 2015/16 offseason: https://www.mlb.com/news/royals-whit-merrifield-adds-weight-to-frame/c-167194072

oldmanduggan
Member

Anon is right. Merrifield bulked up two years ago. A full season of juiced balls and some luck are the likelier culprits here.