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Jordy Mercer: Pirates Look to Turn Shortstop Position into Strength

Pirates NewsClint Barmes, Ronny Cedeno , Jack Wilson, Mike Benjamin, Pat Meares, Lou Collier, Kevin Elster. Those names all have two things in common. 1) Over the last 15 seasons, they have been starters on opening day for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  2) Not one of those players were above average or even average Major League hitters

Heading into the 2014 season, the Pirates look to change that, as they have named Jordy Mercer their starting shortstop. Mercer, 27, was drafted in the third round of the 2008 draft. Mercer replaces Clint Barmes, who manned the position in 2012 and 2013 and will now serve as the backup.

Throughout the minors, Mercer did not put up flashy offensive numbers, but did show steady improvements at each level. In 2009 while at Class A+, Mercer hit .255 with 10 home runs and 83 rbi. The power numbers were there, but the average was low and his .314 OBP was  too low.

2010 proved to be a nice maturation season for Mercer, as he raised his average to .282 and his OBP to .329. While those numbers improved, the power numbers went down, hitting only three home runs, but still managed to drive in 65 runs.

2011 proved to be more like the 2009 season, when Mercer dropped 19 bombs with 69 rbi while batting .255. In 2012 and 2013, Mercer split time between AAA and the show. While in the minors, Mercers showed vast improvements on his BA and OBP.

For the first time in a long time, the Pirates hope to take the shortstop position into a different direction, a more offensive direction. Other than a couple above average seasons from Jack Wilson, the Pirates have not had a shortstop show above average production in any of the major offensive categories for as long as memory stands.

Mercer has shown he is capable to hit for power and average, but lets take a look back at just how unproductive the shortstop position has been for the Pirates over the last 20 years.

In 2013, the Pirates ranked third to last among NL teams with a .241 BA and fourth to last with a .289 OBP at the shortstop position.

In 2012, the Pirates were ranked dead last in the NL with a .233 BA and next to last with a .280 OBP.

The only reason the Pirates saw a minuscule improvement in 2013 was because of the little bit Jordy Mercer contributed in a limited backup role to Clint Barmes.

The ten years before that, the pirates were just as bad, ranking 14 out of 16 from 2002-2012 with a .255 BA and dead last in OBP at .303 and a total WAR of 12.7 over those ten years.

Throughout most of those seasons, fan favorite Jack Wilson saw the majority of the time at the position. While Jumpin Jack Flash had a thrill for the spectacular defensive play or hustle play on the base paths, Wilson was not a good offensive shortstop.

Out of all National League shortstops with at least 300 plate appearance’s in 2013, here is how Mercer ranked.  As you can see, Mercer was ranked fourth in those categories, behind the likes of Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez and Jean Segura. Not a bad group of players to be mentioned with.

Batting Average- .285 (4th)

On Base Percentage- .336 (4th)

Slugging Percentage- .435 (4th)

Mercer destroyed left handed pitching in 2013 with a .398 BA, but struggled against right handed pitching with a .238 BA. The next step for Mercer to become a consistent, every day offensive force in the majors will be to improve against right handers.

The biggest problem area for Mercer overall has come in the field and if not for his shortcomings defensively, he would have seen even more action in 2013.

Say what you will about the lack of offensive production from Pirates shortstops over time, but defensively speaking, Pirates shortstops have held up their end of the bargain. The Pirates ranked third in the NL over the ten year time span from 2002-2012 with a .975 fielding percentage.

In 78 games at shortstop in 2013, Mercer committed 12 errors and had a .962 fielding percentage. That ranked Mercer 15/ 16 among shortstops with at least 550 innings at the position.  Clint Barmes was not much better, ranking 13/16 with a .968 fielding percentage.

Bottom line is, the Pirates have not had even close to league average offensive production at shortstop in a long, long time. With Jordy Mercer getting the opportunity to be the every day shortstop in 2014, the Pirates just might have a chance at turning that production around.

Mercer needs to improve his hitting against right handed pitching and needs to show improvement in the field.

Jordy Mercer has a real chance to turn the Pirates offensive shortcomings at the shortstop position this season. It would not be unrealistic to expect 15 home runs, 70 rbi and an average around the .265 mark. That will come with mediocre to acceptable defense and no speed on the base paths.

So while Mercer will be an upgrade in certain categories, he is not the end all be all answer to the future at the position. The future of the position belongs to Alen Hanson. Hanson, now in his fourth year of minor league ball is on pace to crack the big leagues in 2015.

Hanson has shown all the tools a successful middle infielder needs to shine in the big leagues. Splitting time between Bradenton and Altoona in AA 2013, Hanson hit 8 home runs, 58 rbi, stole 30 bases and hit .274 with a .329 OBP. Hanson has shown serious power numbers in the minors, hitting 16 home runs in 2012 with West Virginia.

Times are changing in the Pirates organization, as management has clearly took notice at how weak the offensive numbers have been from the shortstop position over the last 20 years. Help is here with Jordy Mercer and more is on the way with the continuing progression of Alen Hanson.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, John grew to become a serious sports fan in a serious sports-town. While John is still a fan, he now puts his views into an objective and straight forward manner. John graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 2011. In addition to his work at Baseball News Source, John covers the Pittsburgh Pirates for SlewFooters.com, a Pittsburgh sports website that covers the Pirates and Penguins.