First Pitch: The Pirates Have an Easy Decision to Make With Jordy Mercer

The decision on Jordy Mercer when Neil Walker returns is an easy one to make. Photo Credit: David Hague

The decision on Jordy Mercer when Neil Walker returns is an easy one to make. Photo Credit: David Hague

After Jordy Mercer’s first home run today, Greg Brown said the Pirates will have a difficult decision coming up, deciding what to do with the infielder. After the second homer, Brown said the same thing. I saw a lot of the same on Twitter today during the game, possibly repeating Brown’s comments.

With all due respect to everyone saying this, the decision isn’t difficult at all. The decision to be made on Mercer is easy. He needs to stay in the majors and continue getting playing time, and John McDonald needs to be removed from the roster.

The only way the decision would be difficult with Mercer is if the Pirates thought McDonald was deserving of a roster spot. He isn’t. It would be difficult if McDonald was hitting. He isn’t. It would be difficult if McDonald was playing flawless defense in his limited time on the field. He isn’t. It would be difficult if the Pirates only had one strong defensive backup infielder. They don’t. There’s also Brandon Inge. And there’s Clint Barmes as the starter, making McDonald useless.

I wrote about this earlier in the week, and we talked about it again on the podcast this week. When Neil Walker returns, the Pirates need to keep Jordy Mercer. They need to drop John McDonald. They need to shift Brandon Inge to McDonald’s old spot as the last player off the bench. They need to give Inge’s old spot to Mercer, giving him a few starts per week, and most of the bench at-bats. Mercer is hitting just as good, or better than McDonald and Inge. Neither of those guys have any future with the team. You only need one for the team leadership factor, and you don’t need that one player playing to take advantage of that clubhouse factor.

Meanwhile, Mercer is actually hitting, and has long-term value. If he can benefit from extra playing time in the majors, the Pirates benefit in the long-run. Maybe that means they can be comfortable with him as the starting shortstop in 2014. Maybe it means they make the switch earlier than 2014.

I like Clint Barmes. Not in the same way that I like Starling Marte or Andrew McCutchen, but in the appropriate “he’s got great defense and that gives him some value” way. You’re not going to find a two-way shortstop on the free agent market, and you’re also not going to find teams willing to give up those types of shortstop prospects in trades. I thought it was a good move to bring Barmes in last year at a time where the Pirates didn’t have any internal options ready for the majors.

Barmes has provided a lot of value with his defense. The Pirates have a great infield defense, and you could argue that he’s the key for that. But at a certain point, the lack of offense outweighs the strong defense. According to UZR, Barmes was the best defensive shortstop in the National League last year. However, he had a .229 average and a .593 OPS last year. A lot of that was due to a rough start. From June through the end of the season he had a .255 average and a .650 OPS. That’s fine if it comes with the defense.

So far this year Barmes is off to another bad start. He’s got a .207 average and a .516 OPS. That’s actually better than his start last April and May, but still bad. Barmes in the .650 OPS range, with his defense, is good. But if Barmes doesn’t turn it around this year like he did last year, then the Pirates need to consider replacing him.

I don’t think that Mercer has a lot to work on in Triple-A. I also don’t think that he will lose anything from his game if he doesn’t play daily in Triple-A, as long as he gets somewhat regular time in the majors (which he can, even off the bench, as long as he gets Brandon Inge’s time).

The issue with Mercer throughout his career is that he starts slow at each level. Knowing this, we shouldn’t expect Mercer to have more value than Barmes right away. Yes, he hit two home runs today, but two days ago his numbers were Barmes-like, and he doesn’t have the defense Barmes has. If you give Mercer playing time in the majors, you allow him to slowly adjust to major league pitching. If Barmes continues to struggle, give Mercer a few starts at short. When Mercer shows consistency, and if Barmes isn’t turning it around, that’s when you make the switch. Because he’s been a slow starter at each level, I think there’s more value in easing him into the majors on a bench role, rather than waiting until 2014 (or until you’re ready to replace Barmes in 2013) and throwing him in the mix. I think if you go with the latter approach, you risk having someone who hits the same as Barmes, and doesn’t have the same defense.

So I would ease Mercer in. The Pirates have an easy decision to keep him in the majors. They shouldn’t have any issues finding playing time, especially since he has some history of hitting lefties, and their regular second and third basemen struggle against lefties. That’s the perfect opportunity to ease him in. The only tough decision would be when to make the switch from Barmes to Mercer.

Links and Notes

**The 2013 Prospect Guide and the 2013 Annual are both available on the products page of the site. If you order them together, you’ll save $5.

**Check out the new episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 3: What To Do With Alvarez, Gomez, and Mercer; Casey Sadler Interview.

**Pirates Activate Francisco Liriano, Option Duke Welker.

**Francisco Liriano Could Be a Difference Maker For the Pirates.

**Pirates Play Game of the Year in Liriano’s Debut, Beat Mets 11-2.

**Pirates Should Extend Starling Marte – And Here’s a Price Guide.

**Minor League Schedule: 5/12/13.

**Draft Prospect Watch: Strong Pitching All Around On A Busy Saturday.

**Prospect Watch: Bell Homers, Oliver Wins Despite Command Issues.

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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  • mike_carlini66

    Tim,
    I agree with everything here, however, something tells me that we will hear something along the lines of….we had to send Jordy down to work on some things…..

    I agree, keep him on the roster and remove Mcdonald. It’s not that difficult. We haven’t always seen in the past where the best of decisions were made and that makes me cringe at this upcoming move.

  • emjayinTN

    Tim: Many young players struggle through the minors – it is the rite of passage. But, when given the opportunity, most fail. When you get that one that adapts and looks comfortable at that level, you have to reward that player with a vote of confidence. Jordy Mercer has proven his worth to the Pirates, especially in this year where we better locate a decent SS before the end of the season. To me that means he stays and gets those starts that we used to hand to Josh Harrison last year. The Pirates never expressed any confidence in Mercer as the SS, instead going with d’Arnaud, Harrison, Holt, Friday, Hernandez, etc., and now that he is there, let’s see how far he wants to take it.

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

    Ready for Mercer to get 3/4 starts per week. When AJ, Wandy and possibly FranKisKo they can afford to start Mercer with all the K’s.
    Barmes’ bat is killing the line up. Start him with Locke, Gomez and Morton on the hill & let him be a defensive replacement when we are ahead in the 7th/8th.
    Not only does Walker struggle v LHP, he also can probably use the days off to stay healthy.

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

      accent on the 4…

    • http://www.facebook.com/ian.rothermund Ian Rothermund

      Personally I’d love to see some kind of regular rotation between Walker, Barmes, and Mercer, while riding out individual players that are currently hot. Hurdle seems to do that in right field. I don’t see why it couldn’t work in the middle infield. I’m just not incredibly impressed by either Barmes or Walker so far this year, so I don’t see why other people shouldn’t be given an opportunity. The elephant in the Pirate locker room is that Walker is just not as good as everyone is hoping he’ll be, or even already is.

  • joe g.

    Hurdle on Jordy Mercer, “He showed pop, wiz and flip…good trajectory through the zone. He barreled up on a couple of balls, his mother’s hot…he’s just seeing it well right now, the patience, the discipline….we like Jordy a lot. He’s been doing this since Spring Training. We feel like he’s got a bright future and his mom looks good, which is always a plus. He’s a work in progress. We’ll send him back down to get more reps….like to see him get a little more experience throwing into a strong north easterly wind, but we like where he’s at and what he’s about…”

    • jon6er

      I swear Joe, I heard the same thing come out of Clint’s bubblegum. I just wasn’t aware Clint knew about that wind in Indianapolis.

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

      lol

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

    Wanna bet that Hurdle keeps John OldMac and sends Mercer down?
    He’ll come up with some idiotic reason.

    .

  • http://www.facebook.com/bryan.graham.773 Bryan Graham

    Sorry, Mercer should be the starting SS right now! There is a place for Clint Barmes, it’s called late game defensive replacement. Everybody seems to act like Barmes’ defense is amazing and it belittles the fact that Mercer, while maybe not UZR statistically as strong, is in fact very solid defender. It’s funny on a site that warns about “small sample size” that it compares Mercer’s batting average after a couple of games in the bigs to that of Barmes. I don’t expect Mercer to be a 15 HR guy, but he definitely has shown he has strong gap power and has a strong possibility to hit for at least a decent average consistently. I just don’t see the Pirate strong enough offensively keep a very weak hitting SS take the field everyday.

    • leadoff

      The Pirates were strong enough last year to be one of the best hitting teams in baseball in June and July with Barmes at SS, they can definitely hit well enough without Barmes hitting if the rest of the lineup does what it is capable of doing.
      I do expect Mercer to be a 10-15 Hr. guy.
      I would play Mercer as my everyday SS and Barmes as his fill-in, this team is still growing and maturing, it is a wrong decision to stop the youth movement now when they finally have players that are developing.

      • http://www.facebook.com/bryan.graham.773 Bryan Graham

        Unfortunately the season consists of more than 2 months, so I guess it is expected that Cutch should hit almost .500 for the whole season instead of 2 months? And everybody else should hit with the same crazy hotness the team had during that span? No. Last year the Pirates were 14th in the NL in batting avg., 14th in OBP in the NL, 10th in the NL in runs. Bottom line, over the season their offense wasn’t very good. Looking at Mercer’s minor league numbers I guess he could be a 15+ HR guy, I didn’t think he had hit for much power in the minors. Bottom line is though, we both agree Mercer should be the starting everday SS, he isn’t getting any younger at age 26 and will be 27 in August.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ToddSm66 Todd Smith

    I’d only keep Mercer up if they are going to find playing time for him. If he’s just going to sit on the bench and play twice a month like McDonald, then there’s no point. At the same time, it’s hard to bench Barmes and take away his starting job when he’s been playing so well lately. He’s hitting .355 with an .863 OPS in his last 11 games.

    • joe g.

      Todd, I agree. Tim hit the nail on the head: Mercer takes McDonald’s roster spot and Inge becomes last man on the bench. That would give Mercer plenty of opportunities to play SS, 2B and possibly some 3B.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bryan.graham.773 Bryan Graham

    For all you “Barmes is a fielding god” people. At SS Barmes has a career .971 fielding % in the bigs at SS while Mercer has a career .969 fielding % at SS in the minors on fields that aren’t always as well kept.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ToddSm66 Todd Smith

      A ball goes deep in the hole at SS. Barmes makes a diving stop and makes an off-balance throw right on the target to first to get an out and end the inning. His fielding percent is 1.000.

      A ball goes deep in the hole at SS. Mercer can’t quite get to it, and it goes in to left field. A run scores and the inning continues. His fielding percent is 1.000.

      Fielding percent doesn’t really mean a whole lot. Sure, they’ll both probably make about the same number of errors, but Barmes will get to more balls, make more outs and save more runs on defense. The question is whether or not Mercer’s offense will make up for those runs on defense.

      • http://www.facebook.com/bryan.graham.773 Bryan Graham

        Yeah, keep believing that. That’s exactly what the Pirates want you to believe. Let’s assume it’s true for a moment, I will take the SS hitting .280 with 12-15 HR and can’t get maybe 1 ball/week that gets through the hole over the guy that gets the ball but hits .220 with maybe 5 HR.

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

          There were only 3 qualified shortstops last year who hit .280+ with 12+ homers. Even if you expand it just outside those parameters (.270, 11+), you only add three more.

          So yeah, I’m sure a lot of people will take that shortstop. The problem is that shortstop is rare.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ToddSm66 Todd Smith

          Keep believing what? That range and defense at the SS position are important? Okay. I will. Are you trying to say that UZR is just a grand conspiracy created by Bob Nutting for the sole purpose of keeping Jordy Mercer at AAA? That’s your most likely explanation? Take your tin-foil hat off.

  • rburgh

    Barmes is hitting .355-.412-.452 in the last 11 games, and has a solo HR today. That’s approximately the time frame in which Mercer has been in the lineup.

    • ianmonk

      I was going to write the same thing. Barmes seems to have picked up his game with Jordy around. McDonalds days are definitely numbered.

  • jamminjoe66

    I had season tickets last & didn’t renew this because Barmas is still here. Sorry Todd Smith the next time you see Barmas make a diving play in the hole & throw anyone other then Barajas out will be the 1st time in about 5 years. Barmas d has cost the pirates 3 games this year. Thank god its a small sample size.

  • jamminjoe66

    I had season tickets last & didn’t renew this because Barmas is still here. Sorry Todd S. the next time you see Barmas make a diving play in the hole & throw anyone other then Barajas out will be the 1st time in about 5 years. Barmas d has cost the pirates 3 games this year. Thank god its a small sample size.

  • mike_carlini66

    Well it looks like cbssports is reporting Jordy Mercer is headed back to the minors……UN!…BELIEVABLE!!!!!