KANSAS CITY -- In his first full season in 2017, Royals super-utility man Whit Merrifield burst onto the scene with 32 doubles and 19 home runs, and he also led the American League in stolen bases with 34.
Last season, Merrifield followed that up with 45 steals, the most in Major League Baseball.
But the stolen base numbers are noticeably down this season -- Merrifield entered Saturday's game against the Astros with 18 steals while being caught 10 times. The secret is out on Merrifield’s stealing prowess.
“Actually, the secret was out in 2017,” Merrifield said.
Still, Merrifield was a threat to steal every time he got on base in 2018. Not as much these days.
The explanation, Merrifield said, is that he is just being smart about his situation now.
“I was a lot more aggressive early in the year,” Merrifield said. “And then as we sort of fell out of contention, I made the conscious decision to sort of take it easy on my body, and just pick and choose when to take chances.
“It would be different if we were in the playoff hunt right now. I’d be a lot more aggressive to take advantage of stealing. But I’m using this time to sort of keep my legs under me, and also to keep the keys I have on pitchers a secret, and the tips I’ve gotten a secret, to save them when they’re more beneficial.”
Merrifield said stealing bases takes a much higher toll on a player’s body than people think.
“I don’t want to say it was a business decision, but it was just a conscious decision to take it easy on my legs,” he said. “Stolen bases are one of the most dangerous things you can do to your body on the baseball field, slamming into the bag, hamstrings. It’s why I wear the [oven] glove. There’s a lot that can go wrong.
“I think it’s smart not to risk getting hurt this time of year.”