PITTSBURGH — As I’ve been writing about what Pirates players hope to accomplish in the final weeks of the 2017 season, for the most part, I had a good idea going into the conversation what the answers were going to be.
When it came to Jordy Mercer, I had no clue.
Mercer, 31, is one of the more experienced players in the Pirates’ clubhouse. He’s having a fantastic year at the plate, having already eclipsed his single-season home run total with 14. His previous best was 12 in 2014. His .739 OPS is the highest it’s been since he was a rookie in 2013, and he’s done it all hitting in the No. 8 spot in the order.
His fielding has also improved this year. He has 1 Defensive Run Saved, up from negative-9 last year and his highest total since 2014. His 1.4 WAR is also the best since 2014 and he’s been pretty healthy, playing in 136 games thus far.
Mercer is arbitration eligible for 2018 and seems a lock to be offered a tender, so he has little pending contract drama. That’s not to say that there aren’t things Mercer and any other big league player has to work on, but for the most part, Mercer has to feel pretty good about where his game is right now.
So when I approached him about what he’s looking for the rest of the season, it was more about the team than it was about him.
Mercer isn’t all that far removed from being a young MLB player, having just established himself as an MLB regular in 2013. But he’s now one of the few established veterans in the clubhouse that will be with this team moving forward. Of position players, it’s 34-year-old David Freese, 32-year-old Sean Rodriguez, and Mercer and Francisco Cervelli at 31 that are holding down the senior end of the Pirates’ roster.
Because of that, Mercer has taken an increased role in helping out those players that are still getting their first taste of Major League Baseball. He sees some parallels between the current group of young Pirates and the one that he came up with in 2012 that included Starling Marte, Jared Hughes, Brock Holt and Jeff Locke, among others.
“They’re winning in the minor leagues and that what we did as well,” Mercer said. “You can see through the course of the year that they’ve brought guys in and they’ve helped us whichever way they could. That’s the prefect example of developing you guys to winning ways. That’s what we did. We all came up together and stayed in one group.”
It’s not just what Mercer can teach the youngsters technique-wise. A large part of success at the major-league level is adjusting to the grind of an 162-game season, and part of that is getting through September. Mercer was quick to point out that even though these games don’t mean anything to the team’s success, if he wants to keep that .739 OPS going into an arbitration hearing, he’s going to have to perform right until the final out.
“September for me, everybody is tired,” Mercer said. “Your legs are heavy. The young kids don’t quite get it yet. They will eventually. For me, it’s just about pushing through it grinding through it, and knowing that the season is almost over, but you still have some meaningful games left. They all count. That was the most important thing for me growing up. September is tough because you’re tired and you’re mentally tired, too, but if you’re mentally able to grind through it, these games count as much as they did in April or May.”