Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Season Recap: Shortstop

After deciding to part ways with shortstop Ronny Cedeno, the Pirates upgraded the position defensively last November by bringing Clint Barmes in on a two year deal. The 33-year-old had a pedigree for an impressive glove at short, and provided a solid glove for the Pirates in 2012.

The first two months of the season weren’t what he, nor Pittsburgh, expected. Barmes hit for just a .149 clip in April, followed by a .189 average in May. Barmes admitted to trying to do too much out of the chute, which resulted in his struggles at the plate. But the shortstop didn’t take his bat with him onto the field. Barmes had the National League’s best UZR for a shortstop in 2012, with a 15.3 UZR/150 mark from the shortstop position.

Despite the early offensive struggles, Barmes was able to put together solid numbers in his final three months of the season, Manager Clint Hurdle stuck with Barmes for the majority of the year. Prospect Jordy Mercer saw the next most appearances at the position (28), with Josh Harrison trailing at 25. Brock Holt, who has split his playing time between second and short in the minors, didn’t see any playing time at the position after being recalled in September.

 

Clint Barmes

Barmes finished the season with a .229 average with 16 doubles, a triple, eight home runs and 45 RBI in 144 games with the Bucs. Despite the slow start, Barmes finished the season off strong. The veteran batted .269  in his last 55 games, beginning with his two-hit game in Houston on 7/28 and went 16-for-47 in his final 17 games at PNC Park, where he hit .251 in 73 games overall in 2012.

Barmes enters the 2013 season in his final year of his two-year contract with the club. Unless the Pirates decide to upgrade the position in the offseason, Barmes will be the everyday shortstop. But perhaps look for some prospects (Mercer, Holt) to see some time at the position next year for glimpses of if either could handle the job in the near future.

 

Josh Harrison

Harrison broke camp with the Pirates out of spring training for the first time in his career and spent the entire season in Pittsburgh as the club’s super utility man. Harrison hit for a .233 clip with nine doubles, five triples, three homers and 16 RBI in 104 games with Pirates.

He made 18 starts at shortstop in 2012 after not playing the position since college at the University of Cincinnati. The Pirates sent Harrison to the Fall Instructional League to get reps at short last offseason and he saw a lot of playing time at the position during spring training.

 

Jordy Mercer

Mercer appeared in 56 games at Triple-A Indianapolis to start the 2012 season before the Pirates promoted the infielder to the big leagues. In limited playing time, Mercer hit .210 with five doubles, a triple, homer and five RBI in 42 games with the Pirates.

Mercer batted .287 with Triple-A and was with the Pirates from July 6th through the end of season. He made 28 appearances (nine starts) at shortstop. Mercer will head into spring training battling likely for a bench role with the club. While the glove has been strong for the 25-year-old, how his bat plays at the Major League level will be key. Mercer led the minors in 2011 in home runs with 19 combined at Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis.

 

Yamaico Navarro

Navarro made the team out of spring training, but struggled out of the gates with Pittsburgh after a solid spring training in his first year with the organization. Navarro was acquired from Kansas City for minor league pitcher Brooks Pounders. The 24-year-old hit just .160 over 29 games this season.

After being sent to Triple-A in late May, Navarro made one more trip to Pittsburgh to make an impression but was optioned back to the minors. Navarro finished with a .279/.366/.491 line with Indianapolis over 66 games. Navarro made three appearances at shortstop in the Majors this season.

 

Chase d’Arnaud

After making his Major League debut in June of last season and going on to appear in 48 games with Pittsburgh, d’Arnaud spent the majority of the 2012 season in Triple-A Indianapolis. D’Arnaud hit .252 (96-for-381) with 24 doubles, four triples, six homers and 38 RBI in 98 games with Indy. The infielder swiped 34 bases out of 39 attempts, which was ranked second in the International League.

D’Arnaud’s playing time after being promoted in September was limited. He went 0-for-6 with two runs scored in eight games with the Pirates and made just one appearance at shortstop.

 

Prospects

by Tim Williams

Shortstop is the hardest position to fill in the majors, and for that reason is the hardest position to develop. Most players spend time at shortstop at some point in their career. That’s because shortstop is where teams usually play their top athletes in the amateur ranks. As players move up, they start playing on teams where they are no longer the top athlete on the team. That might happen for some players in high school. For some it might happen in college. For others it could happen in the various levels of the minors.

The Pirates don’t have a lot of strong depth at the shortstop position, although that’s not a rare position to be in. In the upper levels they’ve got guys who have an upside as an average starter at the position. Looking around the league, an average shortstop isn’t something that really stands out with a lot of value. Mercer and d’Arnaud have the best shot at being starters in the upper levels, with Mercer moving ahead of d’Arnaud this year. Harrison, Navarro, and Holt all struggle defensively, and don’t have the offense to make up for their poor defense at the position.

In the lower levels the Pirates have two shortstop prospects emerging. It’s rare to find a strong two-way shortstop with a good bat and good defense. The Pirates have both extremes with their emerging prospects. Gift Ngoepe, who spent the 2012 season in high-A, is the best defensive shortstop in the organization. Ngoepe is speedy with good hands, a plus arm, and good instincts on the field. However, he’s raw at the plate, which makes him a one-sided defensive wizard at this point. That could change, as Gift doesn’t have a lot of experience in pro ball. His main problem has been consistency, and that could improve with more experience.

Alen Hanson spent the 2012 season in low-A, after making an aggressive jump from the GCL in 2011. Hanson turned a lot of heads this year with his bat, putting up some amazing numbers in the South Atlantic League. He’s got the bat to provide a ton of value at the shortstop position, which isn’t known for being an offensive position. The knock on Hanson is his defense. There are some questions about whether he can stick at the shortstop position over the long-term. The questions surround his arm strength and some of his movements and instincts on the field.

There’s still time for each player to improve their weaknesses and become a two-way player. Ngoepe didn’t make his pro debut until 2009. Hanson didn’t debut until 2010. Both were raw before their pro debuts, and both have come a long way from low-key signings (low-key at least from a talent perspective with Gift) to legit prospects. The important thing to remember is that neither player has to become the ideal shortstop from a league-wide perspective. They just have to be the best option with the Pirates. The Pirates, like a lot of teams, don’t have a strong two-way option. So the chances of Hanson or Gift eventually becoming a major league starter with Pittsburgh are strong.

In the short-term, the Pirates will have to hope that someone like Mercer can step up and become a league average shortstop. Hanson’s bat could move him quickly through the minors, but even on an aggressive timeline, he’s probably not arriving until late 2014 at the earliest. On a more conservative timeline, he’s looking at mid-2015.

Kristy Robinson

Author: Kristy Robinson

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  • ecbucs

    i don’t have faith in the UZR. According to Fangraphs Andreleton Simmons of Braves had a rating of 31.6 (in 426 innings compared to Barmes 1159) Danny Espinosa a 24.8 in 209 innings, Brandon Crawford 9.7.

    I do think it shows that Barmes is a good fielder but I don’t think hsi 15 means he is significantly better than another player with a 7 or 8 (or that Simmons is better than Barmes). So I definitely think Barmes needs to not have the job going into spring training but be pencilled in as back up. There is no reason to think he is going to be able to hit over 250 in 2013 and it is likely he will hit 240 or less with an OBA of 310 or less (that is what he has been able to do the past 3 years or so). That really isn’t good enough.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      UZR is like any other stat. You have to consider sample sizes.

      If a hitter hits .300 over a month, you wouldn’t call him a .300 hitter. You wouldn’t even call him a .300 hitter if he does that in one year. But if he makes a habit of hitting around .300 over a long period, you’d call him a .300 hitter.

      In all of those examples, the innings counts are low. With Barmes, the numbers match what he’s done in previous years. So it’s not just a fluke.

      • ecbucs

        It looks to me like his career is around 10. so he is close to Brandon Crawford. Barmes is definitely a good fielder, I question whether he is good enough to make up for his bat and to have him automatically be named starter for 2013. His batting average (and he brings nothing else to plate) is 229, 244. 235, and 245. that screams out utility player.

    • burgh_fan

      After a terrible start in April and May Barmes posted around a 650 OPS for the remainder of the season. For an average offensive shortstop you are probably looking around 700 ish so he is definitely off that pace but his defense can compensate for it if he can avoid the terrible April and May next season. If the Pirates can get more production from the outfield corners next season that will deepen the lineup making a slick fielding .650 OPS shortstop an acceptable #8 hitter. I do hope Mercer sees more time at the position next year though to see if he can handle it in 2013 and beyond.

      • ecbucs

        I have no confidence (and see no reason why the Pirates should have any) that Barmes will be able to have an ops of 650 next year. Sure he did 650 when 2 months are eliminated but he is going to have bad stretches. I don’t think his glove is better than Jack Wilson’s and the Bucs don’t have the bats in the lineup to make up for Barmes (especially when it looks like there is nobody in pipeline for 2014). Big questions that need to be answered in 2013 are the catcher and shortstop positions for 2014.

        • burgh_fan

          Barmes over the last 3 seasons has an OPS of .649. Thinking he can produce something close to a .650 OPS season seems fairly reasonable to me.

      • duckwoes

        I agree with this sentiment. Having Mercer on the bench for weeks at a time is pointless. I would like to see more of Mercer as well

        • leadoff

          Hurdle has a real problem utilizing his bench correctly, then people wonder why the team runs out of gas going down the stretch. The good teams make sure these bench players play once or twice a week and that every starter gets days off. Sunday day games are when most manager rest their starters, not Hurdle.

          • Lee Young

            Leadoff…boy do I agree with your statement!!!

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

            completely agree

          • RandyLinville

            I agree with this in theory (and I certainly would’ve liked to have had Mercer get a better/longer look at SS) and have not been fond of what Hurdle has done in general, but the degree to which he rested his starters is a non-issue.

            The Pirates had just two players get 140 or more starts – Pedro and Cutch. Next closest with 135 was Barmes, who as you note in a comment above, hit down the stretch far better than he did at the start of the season (so he wasn’t wiped out by the long season and a lack of days off). Milwaukee, who lapped the Pirates down the stretch, had four players get 145 or more starts, including a 34 year old Aramis Ramirez.

            Only five Pirates even got into 110 or more games (including pinch hitting appearances) all year – those three plus Jones and Walker. St. Louis had eleven and Cincinnati had nine players get into 110 or more games.

            This team wasn’t gassed down the stretch (or at least it shouldn’t have been gassed down the stretch – maybe the scapegoat can be the guy in charge of player conditioning?) as much as this team simply didn’t play well. Based on the data, I don’t see the collapse being caused by a lack of rest among the players and therefore, I don’t see it being caused by Hurdle’s wearing the starters out.

            • leadoff

              Cutch and Alvarez are the two most important players on the team, Cutch looked like the bat weighed a ton at the end of the year, Alvarez was overmatched also far too many times the last month and half of the year.
              The amount of days a player gets off is not as important as when they get those days off, if a player plays every game for 3 months, giving him a day off now and then after that is elementary, the guy won’t get back what he has lost. The Pirates started the season with 5 starters, when the season ended there were 2 left, Corriea, Burnett, all the rest were done. Hurdle’s bullpen was also burned out.
              The Pirates had more problems that this the last two months of the year, i am not going to put it all on just a worn out team, I think this team is still fighting a maturity issue, (No stat for that) and I do believe they choked somewhat also.

              • RandyLinville

                Even bringing up the mere possibility of this team being tired shifts the focus from the real issue: a lack of talent.

                Alvarez had an OPS in September that was in line with his OPS in May. Was he tired? Or is he streaky? Cutch had a better September OPS than April OPS. I don’t think we can look at this and logically claim that the hitters were tired.
                You started talking about the bench players and the Sunday lineup and you switched over to the pitching staff. Those are two separate topics.

    • whiteAngus

      i too am not a fan of UZR, mainly because each metric based outlet has their own version of it. but you really didnt have to use UZR to see that Barmes is special with the glove. yes he made a few errors, but his instincts, footwork and athleticism were undeniable. he knows where to be and at the right time.
      he’s never been a good hitter, but he’s better than he showed in april and may. the pirates will not be able to find a better SS in the system just yet and theres almost no chance at finding one on the market. he’ll be our starting SS in 2013, which is fine.

      • john.alcorn

        I’m not aware of any differences in UZR, the difference is in which metric you use for WAR. BR uses total zone runs while FG uses UZR.

        I’m not sure why UZR has such a bad rep, the formula is incredibly common sense based. Basically a percentage of balls hit to your defensive zone that are converted into outs. With bonuses for balls outside your zone that your convert to outs. Take that and add in error rate and arm values and you have it.

        As Tim mentioned, sample size is key, as even proponents of UZR say that single season UZR is not enough to be reliable. You need 2-3 years of data, Barmes scores well consistently, so there’s almost no reason to doubt his above average skill.

        • ecbucs

          what number is considered good with UZR? Barmes (at short) was 15.3 in 2012, 10.8 in 2011, 14.9 in 2010 (just 361 innings) 29.3 in 2009 (103 innings) 10.5 in 2008 (285 innings) (only 35 innings in 2007, 9.4 in 2006 and 5.5 in 2005. So he does have plus numbers each year.

          But what would an average number be?

          I would still argue that his bat cancels out a lot of his defense so that he may be or is very close to being below average overall.

          • john.alcorn

            Well, you don’t have to argue that, you can use WAR which does it for you. Barmes had a 1.7 FG WAR and 1.2 BR WAR this year. He’s above replacement level by quite a bit and earned his $5 million.

            • RandyLinville

              Fangraphs WAR has him at 23rd among SS with 300 PAs. BRef WAR has him in 22nd. He is in the bottom third of of all SS in MLB. The club is paying him $5 million a year to be in the bottom third. He might’ve earned his keep as defined by how much WAR you should get per million spent, but it is on NH and the FO that they were unable to develop or trade for a suitable, lower priced option in five years on the job.

              • ecbucs

                this is basically what I was trying to say. Barmes is not really a plus for the team when compared to other major league shortstops. the Bucs need to be above average at as many positions as possible. shortstop is below average and therefore should be targeted for an upgrade.

              • john.alcorn

                Yeah Randy, I agree he is below average, that’s what his less than 2 WAR tells you. That said, he is better than our other options and I doubt the teams with the 20 better SS are in a hurry to give us their guy.

            • ecbucs

              thanks for explanation. I used UZR 150 from Fangraphs. I understand that Barmes was above replacement level but IMO the Bucs need the veteran players they bring in to do better than that. Plus, I’m not sure he can play above replacement level in 2013 and there is still a big unknown for 2014 unless the team thinks Chase or Mercer can come through – and I think both of them are longshots.

          • john.alcorn

            It looks like you are using UZR 150 which is scaled to 150 games. UZR already has sample size issues, so I would caution against using UZR 150.

            To answer your question, a positive UZR for a full-time player means they above league average. a UZR north of 10 means they are excellent and among the very best at their position.

  • Lee Young

    “Mercer led the minors in 2011 in home runs with 19 combined at Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis.”

    Just another reason to give Jordy a viable shot at unseating Barmes.

    JJ Hardy, anyone?

    • john.alcorn

      We missed the JJ Hardy boat when NH refused to trade two RP’s for him before 2011. At this point, he’d still be a nice add but he’s owed $14 million for 2 years and will cost a decent amount in trade.

      • Lee Young

        John…I am not advocating a JJ trade. Just saying Mercer reminds me of him.

        I agree that me MAJORLY missed that ‘Hardy’ boat! :)

        • john.alcorn

          Got ya, I don’t think Jordy is anywhere close to Hardy defensively and without that JJ isn’t playing SS in the bigs.

  • leadoff

    Barmes is the least of the Pirates problems, going down the stretch he was as good as anyone else on this team and if he did not hit in the 8 hole all year, you might see a little bit better average out of him, he is a solid SS. Finding someone to hit in the 8 hole in the NL is always a problem, especially when you figure the Pirates could care less if their pitchers can hit. Jones at 1st base would be the only poor defensive player they have in the infield if he stayed at 1st. Alvarez has the talent to be an outstanding 3rd basemen, Ramirez and Alvarez were much alike in fielding when Ramirez was with Pitt. If Sanchez plays first base the Pirates have a very solid infield and Jones plays right field, you have a solid infield and outfield. The only real position problem the Pirates have is getting a solid catcher. If there was ever a shortage of talent in the majors, it has to be at catcher, losing Weiters has turned out to be a disaster for the Bucs. Think where they might be if they had him?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

      I try not to think about Weiters being a pirate. It tends to result in cold sweats panic attacks.

  • john.alcorn

    C and SS are clear needs, but the bottom line is that quality solutions just arn’t out there. There arn’t free agents available and there arn’t teams with a huge surplus of talent at these two key spots. The best hope is for a creative trade for a guy with talent but issues (something that hasn’t worked well for us). Something like the Jed Lowrie deal last winter.

    NH and co need to focus on starting pitching upgrades, since that will be available in our price range. Quit spending $10 million on (at best) average position players and get a quality arm either in trade or free agency.

  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    Oy vey, again with the UZR. The one made up stat that Barmes doesn’t look terrible in.
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/barmecl01.shtml
    As you can see, in range factor, something that is actually quantifiable, he’s average. Just a smidgen below average. His hitting though, is far below average. Funny how the rest of the National League didn’t see his sterling defense and chase after him when they had the chance to. And he is declining. Old, not that good to start with, and in decline. Not someone you pour $10 million dollars into when you are as frugal as the Pirates are.