First Pitch: The Not-So-Great Jordy Mercer Compromise

Jordy Mercer is getting playing time, but he should be getting most of Brandon Inge's playing time as well. Photo Credit: David Hague

Jordy Mercer is getting playing time, but he should be getting most of Brandon Inge’s playing time as well. Photo Credit: David Hague

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.

**Top Performers: Stetson Allie Mashes His Way to the Top.

**Top Performers: International Left-Handers Dominate the Pitcher Ranks This Week.

**Pirates Roster Moves: Tabata, Morris Out; Harrison, Zagurski In; Karstens to 60-Day.

**Draft Prospect Watch: Weekly Recap and Mock Drafts.

**Prospect Watch: Poor Rehab Starts From Morton and McDonald.

**Minor League Schedule: Glasnow Looks To Continue Amazing Run.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • http://twitter.com/pittsburgherfan pittsburgherfan

    I’m going to take your argument a step further. Look at these statistics:

    Clint Barmes Jordy Mercer (Projected)
    G- 43 G- 16 (43)
    AB- 126 AB- 50 (134)
    R- 10 R- 5 (13)
    H- 28 H- 13 (40)
    2B- 4 2B- 3 (8)
    3B- 0 3B- 1 (3)
    HR- 2 HR- 3 (8)
    RBI- 9 RBI- 5 (13)
    BB- 5 BB- 1 (3)
    SO- 27 SO- 9 (24)
    BA- .222 BA- .300
    OBP- .263 OBP- .314
    SLG- .302 SLG- .580

    Projecting Mercer to the same amount of games played as Barmes has played, Mercer out performs him nearly every category, assuming he keeps at the same pace (no reason to not think he wouldn’t). I already know the argument for Barmes is defense, but lets be honest, Barmes isn’t exactly performing well on that side of the ball either. 5 errors, most of which leading to runs if I recall. Mercer’s fielding stats for the minors aren’t bad. Why not give Mercer the starting job? He’s an upgrade over what they’ve got there right now. Let Barmes and Inge come off the bench.

    • http://twitter.com/pittsburgherfan pittsburgherfan

      Those stats didn’t turn out like I had hoped but you get the idea.

    • Kevin_Young

      Clint Barmes from April 27 – May 16:
      AB- 46
      H- 17
      BA- .350

      Now obviously I believe Mercer is a better hitter than Barmes, but you can’t just start projecting out arbitrary numbers like that.

      • jamminjoe66

        That’s a super small sample size compared to last 700 ab’s

        • Kevin_Young

          I know. I was using that to say that a lot of people are doing that same sort of thing with Mercer’s stats. You can twist them in a way that suits your point.

  • jamminjoe66

    I’ve been saying the same thing all along. If you break down last year’s no’s there even more embarrassing. Jones & Sanchez has saved Barmas from several other errors also.

  • https://profiles.google.com/113824087346904673399 Dom DiDominic

    Clear sign yesterday when Mercer PH for Barmes. If that does not say, “there is no room form John MacDonald” nothing does. There is zero need for a guy that is worse than Barmes with the bat and not an upgrade with the glove.
    Vetronosity be damned.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    I agree with everything you said Tim. Unfortunately, Hurdle the Inexplicable is still managing the team.

  • Paul J Books

    I imagine a number of the players must be bewildered at this whole thing. Barmes and Inge must feel fortunate to see their names on the lineup card so frequently, and walk back off the field and see a player they know is better with his buttocks on the pine and not theirs, just happy that their time isn’t done yet. This is driving me nuts really. I feel so powerless.

  • IC Bob

    Lee I think you are barking up the wrong tree here. Huntington is the one who put Inge on this team not Hurdle. Huntington is the one who sent Mercer down in the first place. To many decisions are still made in the name of years of protection. The Contrares/ Morris/Sagarski decision yesterday is yet another decision where Huntington is scared of losing someone nobody wants so he sends down the player with options and lets the team suffer the consequences.

    Hurdle plays with the guys he has. He can’t control whos on the team, only the GM can do that. I personally don’t see a compelling reason to have a guy like Inge on this team. I also can’t figure out a reason to have Contraras at this point yet they are still here. I like what Neal has done and I have always liked his plan but sometimes he takes the plan to far.

    • http://twitter.com/mjdouble mjdouble

      You are way off on this Bob. Hurdle has as much say if not more than Huntington on these final roster decisions. Huntington signed Inge as a non-roster invitee. Hurdle is ultimately the one that decides to keep the vet over the rookie at the end of camp. If Hurdle says to Huntington that he is comfortable with the younger player then Inge would have been gone.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

        mjdouble…I wholeheartedly agree. To think that NH makes the moves and then tells Hurdle to ‘make it work’ is backwards thinking.

  • clemo83

    Inge seems to get much of his playing time at 3rd base spelling Alvarezwith a lefty on the mound. Are the Pirates just hesitant to give Mercer a shot at 3rd base?

  • leadoff

    Hurdle has a problem with young players and Harrsion is a prime example of why he has a problem, getting picked off in a huge situation.
    As far as playing Mercer, it would appear that he is giving in reluctantly to playing him. Mercer should be the starting SS period. Barmes skills are diminishing, his throws to 1st base are more often off target, Mercer might give up a small bit of range, good positioning takes care of that, but the rest of the package far outweighs the present. Alvarez should have started yesterday at 3rd base, this obsession that Hurdle has with veterans is costing games. No way Detroit wins the game yesterday with better managing from the Pirates. Contrares stays, Morris goes down, just a terrible move.
    I understand Huntington, despite what some people think, he does not make out the lineup or tell Hurdle who to play, but he can clearly see what Hurdle is doing. If Hurdle won’t play young players, Huntington has no choice but to get Hurdle veterans, players that he will play or look for a new manager, something they don’t want to do.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      Hurdle is the one who loves JHay.

      No way JHay should’ve been out there playing.

      As far as Hurdle with a problem with young players, then why was Tabby, Snider, Marte roaming the OF at various times? Look at his playing Pedro.

      Hurdle just has a problem identifying which players need to be playing, period. His problem playing vets is more that he has a problem identifying which ones have seen better days.

      Foo

      • leadoff

        Tabata and Snider are platoon players and he has no choice. As far as Marte is concerned he was installed in the off season as the starter whether Hurdle liked it or not.
        I don’t think Hurdle was the one turning down trade offers for Marte last year. Remember one thing, Hurdle makes calls to these veterans in off season when he wants one of them to come play for the Pirates, Barmes stated that, Overbay stated that, occasionally phone calls could lead to promises of playing time.

      • emjayinTN

        LY: Any GM worth anything has to do two things before making a move – talk with the guy above him, and coordinate with the guy who is his equal or less, the Field Manager. None of those three are making the decision in a vacuum. I stick with my statement from yesterday that was made in anger – Harrison should have been on the Greyhound to Indy last night, and Inge should have been right beside him. He came on like a ball of fire and helped the Bucs to a few wins, and has fallen apart since. 2W’s/18K’s is pitiful, combined with a .136 BA in the last 10 games he has played.

  • leadoff

    I would go one step further with this Mercer problem (should not be).
    Many people think it might destroy the chemistry of this team if they make a change at SS or move Barmes, after all they could make Mercer the starter at SS and McDonald the backup and trade Barmes.
    I am beginning to think it might destroy chemistry between Hurdle and Huntington instead of the team. Barmes and Inge are clearly 2 of the teachers pets on this team.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      I’ll go with your last sentence, but not the statement about chemistry btwn Hurdle and Huntington.

      jmho

    • IC Bob

      If you guys don’t think Huntington has control of the roster you are just crazy. Guys like Inge are here because the GM put them here. I do agree Hurdle favors vets over rookies but he will play the hot hand or the rookie when the opportunity is right. Morris was sent down because he has options plain and simple. That was not a Hurdle decision Mercer was sent down earlier for the same reason. No rookie on the team that has been deemed to have a future has come up prior to June because we want to control years. Those decision are not Hurdles. When Cole gets here he will be on a pitch and inning count and that decision will be the GMs and not Hurdles. Many a stiff pitcher has been kept around because we did not want to loose him as FA. Hurdle has hardly pitched Contraras because he has been awful but their comes a time you have to pitch him and he proved once again he has no business on the team. My guess is you will not see him pitch in any game that isn’t clearly decided again until he is released (which should be soon with Morton coming).

      • leadoff

        I agree with you that Huntington controls the roster 100%, Coonley even has more control than Hurdle. Hurdle does help them get players once in a while, because recruiting veterans is not always easy.
        You don’t pitch Contraras in a one or two run game when you have better pitchers that are rested, they were still in the game. That game was clearly Hurdle trusting his vets in a big game over using his roster the best way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.brooks.581 Stephen Brooks

    Inge clearly needs to be the LMOB – its where he provides his greatest value. Just ask Brandon McCarthy. Inge has already made his mark on the club – the Bucs were a middling 10-9 while he was on the DL, and 21-11 since.

    Go next level and it’s even more amazing: they’re 13-4 in games in which Inge does NOT start, and only 8-7 when he does. So clearly he helps the team more by not playing than he does by playing. Small sample sizes be damned, you do NOT want to mess with the Pirates when Inge is sitting.

    McCarthy was right! Inge is worth 12 WAR just being on your bench.

    • leadoff

      Sitting is the correct word, suppose we change LMOB to LMSOB, last man sitting on the bench? Inge is clearly a better sitter than player at this stage of his career. I don’t think Mercer should be a LMOB or a LMSOB.