About two weeks ago the biggest topic surrounding Pirates baseball was the fate of Jordy Mercer. Some argued that he should have remained in the majors, with John McDonald being released, Brandon Inge taking McDonald’s role, and Mercer taking Inge’s role. Some felt he should go to Triple-A and play everyday, fearing that the Pirates would just sit him on the bench while he was in the majors. It was a debate between “what the Pirates should do” and “what the Pirates will do”.
The Pirates ended up sending Mercer down, but the move was short-lived. Two days later McDonald went on the DL and Mercer was brought back, creating the scenario that Pirates fans had discussed so much leading up to the moves. It was time to see what the Pirates would do, with the hope that they would do the thing most people felt they should do: give Mercer playing time.
So far, the “should do vs will do” debate has been a compromise. It hasn’t been Jordy Mercer riding the bench, but it also hasn’t been Brandon Inge becoming the new John McDonald.
Since McDonald went on the DL, Mercer has received 21 plate appearances. Inge has received 23 plate appearances. To put that in perspective, Andrew McCutchen (an every-day player) has 49 plate appearances in the same span. For more perspective, it has been 12 days since McDonald went on the DL. McDonald had 9 plate appearances in the 12 days leading up to his trip to the DL. So the Pirates aren’t giving either player “John McDonald” playing time, and they’re both splitting the playing time that a regular player would receive.
From this I have two questions.
1. Why do the Pirates ever need a specific “last man off the bench”?
John McDonald has one value to the team: defense. However, the Pirates already have strong defense at the shortstop position, which limits the usage for McDonald. When he was healthy he only had value as a replacement for Clint Barmes. He didn’t get much playing time, taking the “last man off the bench” role that we’ve seen occupied by many Pirates middle infielders in the past (including Jordy Mercer in 2012).
Now we’re seeing Inge and Mercer getting equal playing time. Neither guy is the “last man off the bench”. Instead, the “LMOB” (yeah, I’m going to call it “LMOB” from now on) is whoever isn’t playing that day. Really that’s the way it should be. Instead of having a dead roster spot on your bench, you should rotate guys in the lineup and split playing time like the Pirates are doing with Inge and Mercer. You don’t need one specific guy as the “LMOB”. And if you’ve got a guy like McDonald who doesn’t bring any value with the bat, and who has limited value off the bench, then he probably shouldn’t be on the team to begin with.
That brings me to question number two.
2. Why aren’t the Pirates using a specific “LMOB” right now?
Yeah, I just said that the way it should be involves rotating bench guys and giving equal playing time. But I also said that a guy like McDonald shouldn’t be on the team. The Pirates have another guy like McDonald on the team, and his name is Brandon Inge.
In theory you’d want your bench players to be rotated in the lineup to receive equal playing time. But here are two (small sample size) stat lines that say the Pirates would be better off giving all of the playing time to Jordy Mercer, rather than splitting his time with Brandon Inge.
Jordy Mercer – .294/.308/.569 in 53 PA
Brandon Inge – .227/.261/.258 in 70 PA
Mercer is younger, he’s hitting, he’s hitting for power, and the only downside is that he doesn’t have a lot of walks. Inge has that same downside, but without the “hitting and hitting for power” part. Inge has a career track record that Mercer doesn’t have, but that track record is trending down, and the trend looks to be continuing this year. The only value Inge brings to the team is a good glove and leadership skills. The leadership skills are still there if he’s getting John McDonald playing time. The glove doesn’t make up for the loss at the plate when Mercer is on the bench.
The Pirates should have given Inge that minimal playing time that McDonald received, and given Mercer the bulk of the time off the bench. Give him most of Inge’s playing time and you’ve got about 60-70% of regular playing time off the bench for Mercer.
Many predicted that the Pirates wouldn’t give Mercer any time, and to their credit they’ve been giving him equal time to Inge. But there is no reason at all to split time off the bench between Inge and Mercer. Inge is showing no value to this team on the field, while Mercer keeps proving himself to be a better short-term option, all while getting him ready to be a potential long-term option in the majors.
Links and Notes
**The DraftStreet freeroll is back! One Day FREE Fantasy Contest – $300 in cash prizes. Join today!
**The newest Pirates Prospects Podcast is up and available for download or streaming. P3 Episode 5: Polanco the Top Prospect? Can Pirates Keep Winning? Mark Melancon Interview.
**Thanks to Tom Bragg (Runs Tough to Come By in Burnett Starts), James Santelli (Like the Pirates Pitching Staff? Thank Neal Huntington), and John Dreker (Who Pirates Draft and Who Fans Want, Might Not Be The Same) for taking over this column this weekend while I was taking a break. We might do something like that again down the line (sometimes it gets difficult coming up with something new each night), or we might have another daily article on the site that would allow other people to give their thoughts a little more often.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.