Jordy Mercer Has Stepped Up at the Right Time With Jung-ho Kang Out

CHICAGO — When Jung-ho Kang went down two weeks ago, it looked like it would have been a huge blow for the Pirates. They were losing their second-best hitter on the season, and their best hitter during the second half. There wasn’t anyone on the roster who looked like they could replace Kang’s production, with only a few people who might be able to see an increase in playing time and help mitigate the loss.

And that’s when Jordy Mercer stepped up.

Mercer had a .237/.289/.304 line in 361 plate appearances this season prior to Kang’s injury. That included a .214/.286/.250 line since his return in late August. If there was hope that someone could replace Kang’s numbers, then Mercer appeared to be an extremely unlikely candidate to put up that production.

But that’s exactly what Mercer has done. Since Kang went down, the shortstop has a .350/.395/.525 line in 43 plate appearances. That includes a big three-run homer today, which was the deciding factor in the Pirates’ 4-0 victory against the Cubs. Simply put, Mercer couldn’t have picked a better time to start hitting.

Mercer mostly credits this to a slow return from the disabled list, rather than stepping up to replace Kang.

“I don’t think it’s just because Kang went down, my numbers are going up,” Mercer said. “I came off the DL, and my first time being on the DL. Sometimes it takes some at-bats to get going. I’ve talked to a couple of guys and figure out it takes 15 to sometimes 100 at-bats to get back to feeling good. Some guys are obviously different than others, but just stay with the process and eventually it will start turning for me, and so far, so good.”

Mercer finally figuring things out right at the time Kang went down would seem to be a very timely coincidence. But Clint Hurdle doesn’t seem to believe that is the case here.

“I’m not a big believer in coincidences,” Hurdle said. “We’ve had a ‘next man up’ mentality since I’ve been here. Sometimes you just don’t know who that next man up is going to be. Jordy has shown us the ability to swing the bat, drive the ball. Working his way back, I’ve felt the swing has been getting better. A home run can be a byproduct of his approach. Getting better and seeing the ball better. He stroked a double yesterday, he drove a ball in the gap as well. His comfort zone at the plate has picked up. He knows that he’s a guy we count on, on both sides of the ball.”

MercerSteppingUp

This is a story that you’d expect to hear from the St. Louis Cardinals, who get a lot of credit for having unlikely heroes step up when one of their starters gets injured. But really, this is just what contenders do.

This isn’t the first time Mercer has stepped up either. He had an .800 OPS during the month of June, and that coincidentally came at a time when Kang was struggling, posting a .596 OPS. And this all followed a point where Kang took over the shortstop role when Mercer was struggling in May, and Kang was hitting too well to be held out of the lineup. Kang took over again when Mercer went down with an injury, and now we’ve come back around with Mercer picking up Kang.

Mercer is a better defender than Kang at shortstop, and typically any offensive boost you get from him is a big bonus in addition to the defense. But this is beyond the boost that Mercer normally shows, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, with the Pirates making one last effort to chase down the Cardinals.

“We’re playing good ball,” Mercer said. “We can only take care of ourselves, and take care of what we can do. The rest will obviously take care of itself. If we continue to play good ball, we’ll be right there in the end.”

And if that happens, a big assist will go to Mercer for the way he has stepped up in the last two weeks.

  • Mercer is a second tier starter whose numbers fluctuate based on the amount of lefty handed pitching he sees. It would be nice if he could rid himself of the LaRoche syndrome he has picked up.

    He isn’t the bum he is made out to be or someone you should pencil into the SS spot for the next two years, but an adequate player to have on the roster.

  • I’ll look into my crystal ball and say…this time next year, Jordy won’t be a starter on the Pirates. But he is the type of guy every contender needs.

    He’s not a Florimon, he’s not a Barmes. Instead, he’s a guy you can plug in when you need to and not have to make excuses for why you’re doing it.

    • Blaine: My crystal ball says he will be the starter at SS next year and beyond. And, the surge in hitting could also be from being mentally prepared to be in the lineup at SS every day. He earned that in 2013 and 2014, but he has struggled in 2015 until lately, and Kang hit very well and with a lot of power. He solidified the middle of the Pirate order when we needed it most, and he will definitely be in the Pirate plans for the future, but I think he wins the battle with JHAY as the regular at 3B.

      In 2014 as our SS, Mercer fielded at a .982 percentage – only 11 errors in 144 games, and without looking, I would be willing to bet he is probably between .965 and .985 this year.

      • I pretty much agree with you emjay. As we know, he is a notoriously slow starter as a hitter, and the injury came along about the time he usually begins to hit better.

    • Mercer will be at SS and Kang at 3b, barring injury.

      2b will either be Walker, JHay, Hanson or some combo.

      1b will be Bell (I hope).

    • Who, then?

      • I think Walker is gone this off season, for slightly better prospects than came for Snider.

        That leaves Mercer, Kang, Hanson, and Harrison to play 2B-SS. If Kang is not ready, I think you’ll see Hanson-Harrison-Mercer. When Kang comes back, he takes over for Jordy.

        If Kang is ready to start the season, I would assume it’s Harrison-Kang-Mercer. By June, Hanson takes over 2B, Kang moves to SS, and Mercer is the odd man out.

        This all presupposes Walker is out, and I think he is…I don’t believe Hanson should or will be held back for a full season.

        Just my thoughts…of course, all this is barring injury and oddity. But, yeah, when next September rolls around, all things being equal, I don’t envision Jordy being a starter. I guess we’ll see…

        • I’m in the “Josh Harrison should play 2nd” crowd. The league is so bereft of SS, I don’t think Mercer is going anywhere, unless a better option is acquired. I’m not a big fan either but they’ve won a lot of games with him.

          Lately when it comes to the roster I’ve been touting “Better the devil you know.” I prefer Kang at 3rd.

          • Harrison over Hanson? What? NO! 🙂

            I like Mercer and think he’s good for the team, but he doesn’t overly impress me. He reminds me of Jack Wilson…without Wilson’s defense. I wouldn’t mind Jordy as the infield super-sub.

            Now, this is primarily based on thinking Jordy’s 2014 season with the bat was flukish. If he gets the nod to start next year and puts up that kind of production again, well…that’s a nice problem to have. But, as it stands, I’d take a healthy Kang and a 4 WAR, with lesser defense, over a Mercer who’s averaged 1.7 over the last three seasons.

            • Honestly Blaine, I’m pretty sure Hanson will struggle with the bat early on like Polanco and Marte have. But we’ll see what NH does this winter

              • I don’t doubt that at all…which is why I fully leave open the possibility he may not be up until June.

                And I’ll go one further by saying he may take a couple of years to get to Walker’s proficiency.

                But, I think, he’s going to be a very good long-term option.

                If Harrison can perform and Harrison levels, and Kang can perform at Walker levels, and Hanson can perform at Mercer levels, the quality of the IF stays equal. I’m rather certain all three of those are realistic.

                And, if production remains the same and the costs drop by millions, that’s money that can be invested elsewhere. Thus, a net gain for the organization.

                Of course, I could be wrong.

  • Without much to back it up other than my untrained eyes, I’m a Jordy fan. Hopefully he can parlay this stretch into a more consistent ability to produce with the bat.

    Side note: I can’t decide which sport cliche I’m more tired of…”next man up” or “all in.”

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