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Monday mop-up duty: mighty Mercer back in a holding pattern … should he be?

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PNC PARK – If all things were equal, Jordy Mercer would be on the Pirates’ 25-man roster. Mercer was mostly impressive during his nine games with the Pirates while Neil Walker’s hand laceration healed.

 

Mercer hit a pedestrian .258, but he provided punch with three home runs, including two Saturday in New York. In nine games, Mercer made just one error. He’s clearly a more dynamic player than veteran utility man John McDonald.

 

But when Walker was activated from the DL prior to today’s game, Mercer was sent down to Triple-A because he still had options. Other veterans did not. It can be debated, but the Pirates want to keep as many assets as possible.

 

honus-wagner

(Jordy Mercer isn’t the next Honus Wagner, but he doesn’t need to be to be the Pirates starting shortstop in 2014 .. and perhaps sooner)

 

Said Hurdle during today’s pre-game press briefing:

 

“He’s headed to have his time and it very well could be again this season,” Hurdle said. “But right now I think you want to maintain, I think the term that is used it today’s game is ‘asset allocation.’ Chase (D’arnaud)  is still working his way back. In three weeks we might have more shortstop depth. We might be able to look for a different combination or a different way to attack things. He added value to us, he added value to himself.”

 

With Barmes a free agent after the season, Hurdle said Mercer has a shot to be the every day shortstop in 2014.

 

“He could very well be the guy that gets the short to play shortstop,” Hurdle.

 

But for now Mercer must wait.

 

STARTING NINE THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS

 

9. More Mercer talk ….

 

Before the fans run Clint Barmes out of town for a small-sample performance from Mercer, consider Barmes was rated as the second best defensive shortstop in the NL last year, and he’s playing above average defense again this season. Does that make up for a .219 batting average? It’s not ideal. But if Barmes continues to play above average defense, that’s the most important thing at the game’s premier defensive position.

 

8. I think it’s also better for Mercer to play every day in Triple-A than to be a utility man unless the Pirates creatively used him as a super sub, playing him a three infield positions. But I don’t think Mercer would add much value in a utility role.

 

7. The question for me going forward with Mercer isn’t his bat. I don’t think he’s the second coming of Alex Rodriguez, but I think he can hit enough to hang in the middle of the field. The bigger question is can he handle the assignment defensively.

 

“I don’t know until we send him out there for a big block of time,” Hurdle said.

 

Baseball Prospecuts is more concerned about his offensive ability:  ”Mercer may be only an up-and-down guy, but his ability to field and throw across the infield gives him a shot at a utility role if enough falls into place for him offensively.

 

The Pirates need to form a stronger opinion than that heading into the offseason as shortstop is one of the most glaring holes when looking at the construction of the 2014 roster.

 

6. What Mercer did do during his 9-game stay was this: he improved his stock. I think at the very worst he’s a utility option going forward. Ideally for the Pirates Alen Hanson sticks at shortstop but he’s not a realistic option until 2015, and he’s mostly a future second baseman.

 

OK, enough Mercer talk …

 

5. What more can you say about the Pirates effort against Matt Harvey, who entered Sunday’s game as a Cy Young candidate?  The Pirates aren’t the ’31 Athletics offensively, but I think they have enough offense.

 

4. The offense will get better with the addition of Neil Walker’s bat. He was 5 of 12 at Double-A Altoona over the weekend and his bat will eventually get going.

 

3. I’m bullish on the Pirates’ pitching depth. I’m the president the Francisco Liriano fan club. Gerrit Cole should be ready in June. Charlie Morton was schedule to throw a bullpen, and Jeff Locke has offered quality starts in 3 of his 4 starts. I think the Pirates have quite a few options for the  back-end of the rotation. My questions are more about the top of the rotation ..

 

2. I think AJ Burnett is a No. 2 on a playoff caliber team. Wandy Rodriguez is a 3 or 4. Burnett needs help atop the rotation. Can Liriano be that guy? Can Cole be that guy? The Pirates need another impact arm because St. Louis has like 127.

 

1. I’m curious to see if the league adjusts at all to Starling Marte. He’s seen a lot of of fastballs early in the season, but as we documented last week his improved ability to stay back and be an above average hitter on curveballs should offer encouragement. Might he see more changeups? Something in sequences will likely change.

 

STAT OF THE WEEK

 

44.4

 

The swing-and-miss rate on Francisco Liriano’s changeup Saturday at New York. We all know about Liriano’s slider, but his changeup is another potential plus pitch. The key is fastball command.

 

FACTOID OF INTEREST, PERHAPS ONLY TO ME

 

Three ACC catchers have been drafted in the five overall since 2007. The Pirates had a chance to draft any of the three. They drafted Tony Sanchez. The other two: Buster Posey and Matt Weiters.

 

NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION

If you missed season one of The Americans, which concluded two weeks ago. Go check it out on Netflix when it comes available. It’s in the Breaking Bad family tree of drama. Great stuff.

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Comments

  1. JohninOshkosh says:

    I’d watch 50 minutes of Keri Russell just standing there!

  2. Travis Sawchik says:

    Best alias ever: Clark Herbert Westerfeld

  3. JohninOshkosh says:

    P.S. I enjoy these Monday potpourri entries. Good stuff here about baseball and other things that make life enjoyable.

  4. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks, Oshkosh

  5. oldbuccofan says:

    Don’t fall into the sabermetrics trap, watch Barmes play. He is not a good defensive shortstop. His fielding fundamentals are atrocious. He NEVER uses both hands to field a ball, consistently stabbing at the ball with his glove hand only.

  6. Nate83 says:

    American’s is a great show. It felt like something was missing last Wednesday when it wasn’t on.

    You summed up the Mercer situation perfectly in my opinion. If he can’t get 12-15 bats a week up in the majors there is no reason for him to stay up and stunt his growth. He needs to play and taking McDonalds at bats would hardly be enough. If Barmes gets hurt he comes up immediately and starts at short.

    I really think Barmes ends up hitting close to .250 this year. He just seems very professional and dedicated. He seems to be getting it together a little bit and his bat was not an issue the last two months of last year.

  7. jeffsbar says:

    Keep up the good work Travis.

  8. NorthPirateFan says:

    Clint Hurdle’s not going to have any say as to who will be the starting shortstop in 2014 because with moves like this the next consecutive losing season is all but a foregone conclusion and he’ll be getting the axe shortly there after if not hopefully before.

    We can argue all day and night about whether or not Barmes is a good defensive shortstop and it doesn’t make any difference because the difference between the best and worst defensive player at the position, like any other position, simply doesn’t translate into wins or loses. 90% of any teams’ defense is the pitching, after that if you take the total number of plays any short stop is involved in over the course of season then factor out the number of plays EVERY major league short stop is going make … what you’re going to see is that even if we accept all the hype about Barmes’s defense we’re talking about a miniscule number of ground ball singles that will never affect the score that he might be getting to.

    This organizations devotion to slick fielding no hit shortstops is one of the constants throughout their losing streak and a major contributing factor to it.

    Jordy Mercer doesn’t need to be the next Honus Wagner at the plate to be the better option at SS than Barmes. He only needs to hit somewhere around league average for the position in order to have the total number out he doesn’t make at the plate far outweigh any number of outs he theoretically doesn’t make in the field.

  9. NorthPirateFan says:

    It doesn’t matter whether he’s the defender some claim he is not, there is no Sabremetrics trap to fall into on the matter because if Sabremetrics has proven anything at all it has demonstrated beyond any doubt that not only has the importance of defense at any one position is vastly overstated and it’s vastly more important to get league average or better offense from as many positions as possible than to get league average or better defense.

    The worst defender at any position is going to make 95% of the plays that the best player there will and at shortstop were talking about a handful of measly ground ball singles accounting for those he won’t.

  10. Nate83 says:

    I disagree. He almost always takes perfect routes, has a quick release, great footwork and rarely if ever makes a mental mistake in the field. He passes my eye test defensively with flying colors. If he was playing little league I would be worried about how many hands he used to field the ball.

  11. Brendan says:

    In my judge The Americans features the best use of wigs and fake mustaches in recent TV history.

  12. Brendan says:

    PS – Regarding Barmes

    There’s no doubt we underrate defense. Everyone will remember the homerun Mercer hit but not Barmes’ glove work in a particular game–especially when it’s doesn’t include the eye popping acrobatics of Ozzie Smith (or Jack Wilson for that matter). People don’t spend much time thinking about the runs that don’t score because of Barmes because they’re intangible

    A big part of the Pirates success this year has been the continue improvement of their defense–which began in 2012. Barmes is a big part of that, as Starling Marte, no Garrett Jones in RF, and of course Russell Martin. I don’t want to pick on Michael McKenry. But we saw quite a few examples of the way that play not made defensive side can snowball into several runs yesterday–he was not the only offender of course.

    Finally per Fangraphs Barmes currently is the 7th ranked SS by UZR. In front of him Alcides Escobar, JJ Hardy, Stephen Drew, Cliff Pennington, Elvis Andrus, and Andrelton Simmons.

  13. Travis Sawchik says:

    Oh, without a doubt. Bobby Valentine takes second place

  14. Travis Sawchik says:

    Defense has been undervalued for some time in the game, though we’ve seen a correction in recent years due to the increase of batted-ball data, and the increased importance of run prevention exiting the steroid era.

    I wouldn’t want a club to sacrifice offense for defense at every position, but I can live with a light-hitting SS if he’s a plus defensive player, which I think Barmes is. Is he Omar Vizquel in his prime? No. Are the metrics too kind? Perhaps. But I do think Barmes is a solid glove man.

  15. Travis Sawchik says:

    I don’t think defensive sabermetrics are the be-all, end-all. I think the scouting eye is still important. I prefer a blend of both approaches. But the sabermetrics are a tool, and we do have more batted-ball data than ever due to services like Baseball Info Solutions. It tells us something.

    I think Barmes still has pretty good range and hands. I don’t know if he’s elite as the metrics suggest, but I think he’s above average.

    Barmes is going to be the guy at short in 2013 unless he gets hurt. The bigger question is who is the SS in 2014 and beyond?

    The Pirates might want to address the left side of the infield in the June draft

  16. Travis Sawchik says:

    I’ll trade offense for defense at the infield corners, second base and left field … but I want premium defenders at SS and CF. Gotta have range, instincts and an arm to standout at those positions

    There’s a reason A. Simmons was untouchable when the Diamondbacks were in J.Upton trade talks with the Braves

  17. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks, Jeff. Thanks for reading

  18. Travis Sawchik says:

    There aren’t many plus offensive SSs in the game. And I think we need a much larger sample from Mercer to conclude he’s going to be even an average MLB hitter

    This is his career MiLB slash line: .268/.326/.404

    I think the long term answer is Alen Hanson or a player who is not a member of the org

  19. Nate83 says:

    Failure to turn a double play can lead to 2 or 3 extra runs in an inning that should be over. We are talking about a guy who will probably bat between .260 and .275 playing over a guy who will more then like hit .235 to .250. I don’t see how those 20 batting average points which is 10 hits over 500 at bats would offset the difference in defense.

    Even if we use the 95% and a shortstop getting 500 chances a year in the field that is 25 hits you gave up. I think a lot more then just balls you get to go into the defensive equation as well so it would be slanted even more in Barmes direction if that is the case.

  20. oldbuccofan says:

    LOL! What Barmes are you watching? He consistently stabs at balls and has no ability to recover if the ball takes a bad hop or does something unexpected. His range is limited, I rarely see him make plays from the hole or behind second base. Barmes is probably extremely lucky most plays at SS are routine and he can handle them and that is also why it’s not a reach for Mercer to be more than adequate defensively at SS.

  21. “Breaking Bad” is an intoxicant, as destabilizing as it is illuminating.

 
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