Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Case For Jordy Mercer

Many have seen the acquisition of John McDonald as a sign that Jordy Mercer is likely to begin the year at Triple-A.GM Neal Huntington linked the move to Chase d’Arnaud’s injury, with the logical assumption being that Mercer’s April role would be as the Indianapolis Indians’ starting shortstop. Nonetheless, this does not necessarily need to be the case.

With McDonald all but guaranteed a place on the roster, despite his lack of ability at the plate, it leaves Mercer battling with Josh Harrison, Brandon Inge and Ivan De Jesus Jr for the final infield bench spot. The latter two players would need to be added to the 40-man roster, Inge prior to March 26th otherwise he could opt out of his deal. Given the favoritism shown to Harrison over Mercer last season, when the rookie spent too much time sitting on the bench with the light hitting Harrison collecting plate appearances in his place; Mercer may well find that his immediate future lies in the minors.

Mercer didn't hit a lot last season in the majors, batting .210/.265/.371, although he also didn't play a lot (just 68 plate appearances). Even if he is headed to Indy, it is not due to his performance this spring. He’s hit .409/.576/.636 with a triple and a home run, with a team leading eight walks and just three strikeout. It's onlt Spring Training, so all the 34 plate appearances show is that he’s not done anything to deserve to lose a job off the bench.

Many arguments for a Mercer demotion would be that it allows him to play every day, receiving consistent at-bats to aid his development rather than spend game-after-game-after-game on the bench in the majors like he did last season. The fact is that there should be plenty of plate appearances available for him in the majors. I have looked at platoon situations a lot on this blog and this is part of the role  that Mercer fill this season; both Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker could, and in some match-ups should, be given days off against tougher left-handed pitchers (as both have had their troubles with southpaws):

2012:
BB%
K%
ISO
BABIP
wOBA
wRC+
Pedro Alvarez
7.2%
38.2%
.171
.303
.284
78
Neil Walker
9.4%
13.8%
.042
.279
.271
69

2010-2012:
BB%
K%
ISO
BABIP
wOBA
wRC+
Neil Walker
7.6%
14.3%
.095
.305
.304
90
Pedro Alvarez
8.3%
38.0%
.144
.321
.281
74

While it’s too early to give up on either Walker or Alvarez as full time options for the club, I do think that the Pirates offense can be improved this season by limiting Alvarez and Walker’s exposure to left-handed pitching (with both players always starting when the club faces a right-hander). By sitting either player, it would allow Mercer to gain major league experience. Players tend to hit opposite handed pitchers better in any case and Mercer’s minor league numbers match up with the general rule – below is his performance in the minors over the last two seasons (courtesy of Minor League Central):

PA
ISO
BABIP
K%
BB%
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
vs. LHP
211
.155
.316
13.7%
10.0%
.289
.367
.444
.811
vs. RHP
576
.176
.278
16.3%
6.1%
.255
.316
.431
.747

While Mercer has been good against left-handers in the minors, he’s been solid-yet-unspectacular against right-handers – only really hitting them for power. Ordinarily, he’d be a player that would be heading towards being a platoon option despite the power against righties; however Clint Barmes is no ordinary hitter. Barmes has a career triple slash line of .240/.285/.369 when facing right handed pitchers, which dropped to .217/.243/.308 last season – highlighting the room for improvement. Again, it shouldn't be the case that Mercer would form a full time platoon at short, Barmes’ defensive prowess still has value, however on a part time basis he would have a shot at outperforming Barmes’ .240 wOBA against right-handers in 2012 despite his minor league numbers (that said I’d expect Barmes to improve on his 2012 numbers).

By acquiring John McDonald, the Pirates have opted for defense off of the bench to cover for a defense-first shortstop. This means that the other infield option should be able to provide at least something with the bat, which in-turn ought to rule out Josh Harrison. While Brandon Inge can offer the ability to hit left-handers when Alvarez or Walker are given days off, he can’t provide offense at the position where the need is greatest for the Bucs. Not only could Jordy Mercer provide depth off of the bench at three positions, he could audition for a full time role in 2014, which would be useful when considering the lack of shortstop depth on the free agent market next winter.

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