2014 Recaps: The Pirates Have Finally Found Their Shortstop in Jordy Mercer

The Pittsburgh Pirates may finally have a shortstop for the foreseeable future. The team hasn’t had a solid shortstop since they traded away Jack Wilson in 2009, with Wilson nearing the end of his career. They went with Ronny Cedeno, then defensive specialist Clint Barmes, before giving Jordy Mercer a shot in 2013.

Mercer did well in his time at the position last year, but not good enough to look like more than a stopgap option at the position. He showed improvements in 2014, and could have locked down the position for the next several years.

The biggest improvements from Mercer came with his defense. He finished with 9 Defensive Runs Saved, which ranked fifth among 22 qualified shortstops. His 0.5 UZR/150 was around middle of the pack, but an improvement on his -9.4 UZR/150 in 2013. The 2013 season also saw him put up a -2 DRS, so his improvements in 2014 represented an extra win.

Offensively, Mercer struggled to start the season. He posted a .199/.234/.274 line during the first two months of the season. Mercer had improved defense during that time, but as someone who was always advertised as an offense-first shortstop, it was alarming that the offense disappeared.

From the start of June to the end of the season, Mercer posted a .278/.333/.433 line, which was very similar to his .285/.336/.435 line in 2013. His OPS in the second half of the season ranked 4th out of 22 qualified shortstops. That, plus the improved defense, made Mercer the sixth most valuable shortstop in the second half of the season.

The Future

In previous years, talk of the future would have included prospects. But now the Pirates might be moving beyond that and sticking with Mercer. You could question whether Mercer’s 2014 numbers were legit. I don’t think the offensive numbers in the second half should be doubted, since that’s what he did in 2013. The defense could be doubted, although Mercer chalks that up to added experience at the position, plus work with Clint Barmes. So the defensive improvements make sense.

It seems that the Pirates are trusting the numbers. This year they moved their best shortstop prospect in the upper levels, Alen Hanson, over to second base. This move was made due to the fact that Hanson was struggling defensively at shortstop, and to get his bat to the majors quicker. If there was any perceived need for a shortstop, the Pirates wouldn’t have made this move. They would have stuck with Hanson to see if he could fix his issues at the position. The move to second base is a signal that the Pirates consider Mercer their shortstop. The fact that he’s under team control through the 2018 season means that the Pirates won’t need a shortstop anytime soon.

The current options in the minor leagues include Hanson, who is more likely to take over at second base in the short-term, if he has a future as a starter. JaCoby Jones moved to the position this year, although his chances of sticking at shortstop in the long-term are still up in the air, and it seems more likely that he will work out better at second base.

In the very long-term, the Pirates drafted Cole Tucker in the first round this year. On a very aggressive promotion schedule, and a not-so-conservative timeline, Tucker could be up at the start of the 2019 season. However, a more conservative timeline has him making the majors in 2020 or later. Either way, the Pirates will probably need a stopgap to bridge the transition from Mercer to Tucker, and that’s even assuming Tucker makes it to the majors at all, which is a big assumption when you consider the failure rate of prospects from rookie ball to the majors.

For now, the Pirates are set with Mercer. They’ve got four more years to find their next shortstop, unless they extend Mercer. If that’s going to be an option, it would be best done this off-season, since they’d get the most savings buying in now. There would be a risk that Mercer’s defense isn’t as good as he showed in 2014, or that his offense would continue to be inconsistent. But the upside would be big if they could buy “low” on some of his free agent years by showing faith in his future right now.

  • Mercer is the lower-case Jay Bell; you won’t win because of him, but you can win with him.

    • I think Jay Bell is a good comp. for Mercer, and I dare say Mercer could be the better hitter of the two in the long run.

      Pgh is not going to fill every position w/ All-Stars, which is why guys like Mercer are valuable – above-average offensively at a defense-first position, cheap & under club control for a few more years.

      The minor leagues are filled with all-glove/no-hit SS prospects. Pgh finally has a SS that can hit ML pitching (for the first time since Jay Bell), but somehow that’s not good enough for some folks around here… tough crowd.

      • Where can I send my dues for the Jordy Mercer Fan Club, Mr. President?

      • For me.. just me though. The buccos have built a system around pitching to contact and high groundball rate.. the importance of defense is too high to sacrifice for added offense at the shortstop position. .

  • Mercer doesn’t walk and can’t hit RHP. Just saying.

  • Given serious needs at 1B & Catcher, I seriously doubt the Pirates FO would waste time (or prospects) looking for another SS (via trade/FA). Mercer looked like a ML starter from the moment he arrived in ’13, IMO. The statheads around here have to wait for their precious sample size before passing judgement, but anyone who’s played the game at a high level could see Mercer’s bona fides – he never once looked overmatched at the ML level, and frankly, I think he has an above-average glove (I predict the stats will prove me right in the long-term).

    Why not lock-up a guy like Mercer through 2020? Worst-case scenario, you have two extra years of control over a VERY trade-able commodity (SS w/ power). If the idea is to lock-down solid (offensive) contributors with manageable contracts, then it should be S.O.P. to get control of a guy like Mercer early-on (i.e. before arb. kicks-in) when the numbers are reasonable, just like Pgh did with Marte (whose contract extension is a perfect example of this small-market payroll principle, IMO).

    • Mercer is 28 and while serviceable will struggle to be an above average player for any length of time, he is not a player that you extend.

    • “…but anyone who’s played the game at a high level could see Mercer’s bona fides – he never once looked overmatched at the ML level…”

      So then Clint Hurdle benched him in favor of Barmes at the end of 2013 because Mercer stole his lunch money?

      Smart take, buddy.

  • lonleylibertarian
    October 15, 2014 7:06 pm

    And while I am reading the comments – the KC Royal are going to the World Series. And our streak will be 36 years on opening day.

  • I’ve looked at a few defensive measurements on fangraphs. It seems like there’s a lot of variance from year to year for even the best ss with years of experience. . I would love for jordy to settle in as our guy, just hesitant to do so cause he seems a bit old to experience that type of growth with his glove? Though I kinda think a lot of it is he’s really good at the 50/50 plays and the shifts limit the plays that require range? would anyone know if it is reasonable to expect similar glove moving forward.

    • I think you’re on the right track, but I’d first look at what Mercer did to get to that improved defensive measure. You’re absolutely right, he’s not getting any younger. He’s not getting quicker, and his arm isn’t getting stronger. But what he was able to do is tighten up the plays he was supposed to make. Essentially a poor man’s Jhonny Peralta.

      Remember that defensive performance, and thus the measurement of defensive performance, can vary year to year just like offense. So no one should be necessarily surprised if Mercer regresses next year. However, I think the improvements he did make were ones that can certainly carry forward.

      • I’m pretty sure there are ways a guy in his mid 20’s can improve his quickness and arm strength. Not sure if Jordy focused his attention on these or if it was more adjustments explicitly for playing SS (reading the ball off the bat better, taking better routes, etc). But a decent trainer could make some improvement on the athletic ability.

      • I hope so.. jordy was awesome this year and me loves an elite defensive shortstop. . Thanks nmr

  • lonleylibertarian
    October 15, 2014 5:22 pm

    I thought the Bucs could/should have made a run at Jose Abreau last off season. Looks like they could have another bite at the apple – 3rd Best Playe in Cuba just defected and should be a free agent by February. 2nd Baseman which would allow 1. Walke to move to a corner. 2. The Bucs could then package Hanson for a First baseman – or perhaps a catcher replacement if Martin indeed goes to LA as I suspect he now will.

    • Fernandez is probably looking at 6-7 years at an AAV of $11-$12 mill. This is the Pittsburgh Pirates. That ain’t happening.

      • lonleylibertarian
        October 15, 2014 7:03 pm

        I am afraid you are right – but the economics of BB are different and one of the themes that I have tried to stress is that the Bucs need to grow up and get some “Big Boy” pants. Using your numbers Fernandez needs to be a 2.5/yr WAR player for the 7 years of his deal to break even – to me that is a pretty attractive risk/reward balance. Could be he turns out to be awful – but that happens – and teams

        Abreu had a WAR of 5.3 – would have won the Division with him at first rather than “bad” and “worse” [I actually think they could have won the division if the just stuck with Travis Ishikawa – as bad as he was /is]

        Abreu was not rated as high as Fernandez so I think a 3-4 WAR per year for Fernandez is not unreasonable. Mercer got off to an awful start and finished at a 2.0 WAR.

        But again – I doubt very much the Pirates will get in on this. The fans will continue to fill the seats and they can keep the $11-12M to pay down debt and buy ski lifts.

        • There’s still people banging the ski lift drum after the last two years and what we have to look forward to within our system?

          • I sympathize with your “Big Boy” pants argument, I really do. The Pirates have a small window (defined by & limited to the length of Cutch’s friendly contract), and GMNH will probably have to roll-the-dice on a “big” FA signing at some point to give this team the push it needs to reach/win a WS.

            But one MUST recognize that a 7yr./$80mil. contract that doesn’t pan out is payroll DEATH for a smaller market franchise. The risk is too great, especially for a position that Pgh has covered (SS/2B). Now if that FA were a 1B/C, then your argument would make a lot more sense.

            And while I agree that 1B is/has been a serious problem for GMNH/Pirates, I understand that GMNH made a serious run for Loney last year, so I have to give Pgh some credit for going after a worthwhile asset at that position. Can’t win (sign) ’em all, and throwing around 7yr./$80mil. contracts for unproven FA’s isn’t necessarily the answer.

            I look forward to seeing what Pedro can do at 1B next year, but catcher is the position that worries me most… Pgh fans’ affection for Russell Martin is justified in every way, and I’m afraid that this team will not be a playoff contender without him. Pgh’s small window would shrink further if the 2015 season suffers from regression at one key position. This team can’t afford even the slightest regression at any position, because they have to start winning the division outright to give themselves a legitimate chance at a WS. Some might argue this point but they would be wrong. The wild-card game is cruel – a coin-flip – too cruel to be part of a serious plan to reach the WS.

            Any season that Pgh fails to make the NLDS w/ McCutchen on the roster is a lost season, and the entire season’s payroll is wasted, IMO. So I definitely understand your “Big Boy” pants argument, because ultimately a big risk will have to be swallowed. There’s only so many rabbits in the hat, and the Pirates have already pulled out more than their share ((FrankieL/JHay/Endy/Holdzkom/…) .

          • lonleylibertarian
            October 16, 2014 12:15 pm

            Exactly what do you think is so great about the last two years – I am happy the losing streak was broken – but I don’t see a NLC championship banner – a NL banner or a World Series Pennant. I worked at Nike for a while – Phil Knight thought one of our best ads ever was the “You Don’t Win Silver – You Lose Gold!’ that they used around the Atlanta Olympics.

            As for the “system” – the vast majority of even very good prospects never pan out – it is great to have a solid farm system – but it works best when you are willing to use a reasonable budget to fill out the roster with talent as needed.

            I want to focus on ending the 36 year streak – not just making the playoffs. I know others think it is great to have such a nice place to watch games and be “competitive” – I am not part of that group.

            • I appreciate your views, but I think there has been a bit of market correction with Cuban defectors, Rusney Castillo is getting 7 years/$72 million, Alex Guerrero 4 years $28 million, there isn’t much surplus value there. You seem to want some credible signal that the Pirates “want to win” more than good baseball decisions, projecting 3.0-4.0 WAR off of one scouting report is a bit premature.

              And the vast majority of very top prospect do not fail, top hitters have 50% success rate, with the payoff being their salaries are suppressed, allowing other areas to be addressed. Phil Knight knows all about using under compensated players to ones advantage.

            • It’s not just the team is competitive and plays in a nice park.. the atmosphere is electric and well worth the fitty and change to take my girl.. the conversations about all the individual system is what is awesome. . I’m a ultra competitive person myself so I get the win at all cost mentality. . But being a fan is about enjoying the team.. not winning.. seems to me there’s few teams that are more enjoyable to watch in any sport.. I guess I just don’t see why folks continue to hate on such a great thing.. and it looks like a lot of resources are bring used to ensure it continue to be great.. I for one think it’s awesome and wouldn’t trade this team for any other. . Banner or no banner

              • Now that I said that… I find it quite ironic that the person who thinks money buys banners would also have the expectation of a small market team to win one in a two year period..

                • lonleylibertarian
                  October 16, 2014 5:14 pm

                  I NEVER said that money buys banners – I HAVE said that a payroll in the $100 Million range is both affordable and would put a better product on the field. AND IT IS 36 years and counting. I know the Bucs have a lot of analytics folks who can find ways to spent a $90 to $100M payroll very efficiently. The willingness to “settle” for a 1st base solution of Davis/Loney/Sanchez/Ishikawa – guys who are 2 WAR players at BEST was disappointing. Loney is often tossed out as a ‘proof” the Bucs were serious – he was coming off a 2.7 WAR year – and regressed this year to 0.9. I thought chasing that level of player for $7M a year was idiotic – others disagreed with me then – and still do, I have no idea if the Bucs COULD have had a shot at signing Abreu – or if Fernandez can be had for anything less than $10M a year – what I am disappointed in is the lack of trying/considering. Again – I understand that others like low prices and focusing on potential and prospects. I prefer the approach the Giants take – probably headed to their third WS in the last 5 years – AND if you like PNC, you should take in a game at AT&T – not quite as good – but on a sunny fall day with a Division winning team and realistic shot at playing deep into November is not awful – yes the have a $150M payroll and some gross overpays – but I would LOVE to see what adding $30M or so to the payroll would do for this team.

                  • I would disagree with your expectation of $100m.. I think $85m is what we should expect based on a 40% total revenue. . $85m is a far cry from $150m.. and yes you very much have said money buys banners.. also, I think you confuse sound investments with low prices..

        • I look forward to your commentary on the ticket price increase.

          • lonleylibertarian
            October 16, 2014 12:09 pm

            As an economist I would favor an increase in ticket prices – could actually have a net benefit to fans. If I can buy a $60 ticket from the Pirates to attend a late season game and not have to pay $80 or more to Stub Hub for the same ticket if I decide to go to the game Stub Hub is worse off and I am better off. Getting the right price to continue to have full or nearly full stadiums would be a good idea.

            It is an even better idea of the extra money would be used to put a better product on the field.

  • I think Mercer is a lock at the SS position for the next 4-5 years and if he takes the opportunity seriously and works to keep himself physically prepared for the game we could see him develop into a Barmes in his prime type player or better. (ie: .250 to .290 ave with double digit HR’s and good to very good defense). I can be happy with that.

  • We are pretty deep in Outfield, Shortstop and Catcher – need to beef up on starting pitching though….

  • SS is a position that can still be improved. If the Pirates have an opportunity to get a better SS in a trade that won’t cost a top prospect, they should explore that. If it is going to be Mercer for the next few years, I hope he works on his two-strike approach and situational hitting because he’s awful at both.

  • Given his August, 1986 birth date Mercer will be turning 32 in the middle of the 2018 season, his last year of control. I am not sure that he’ll have the same athleticism then, at the position which requires the most athleticism. I see Mercer as a Walker like performer; very good but not exceptional. Therefore I don’t see him as someone you’d want to be paying big bucks to in his middle 30’s. I’ll enjoy watching him for three or four years though! Jones may be ready as a bridge to Tucker by then.

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