For obvious reasons, a lot of baseball analysis is focused on elite performances, changes in talent level, and young players brimming with potential. This leaves little time and few words dedicated to appreciating the steady performers who have always been consistent. We take them for granted, never considering what would be left if they were gone. See Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop, Jordy Mercer.
When Mercer made his major league debut, Clint Barmes was the incumbent. We remember Barmes as a glove first shortstop, to put it kindly. More accurately, he was a glove only shortstop and any potential upgrade should have been welcomed enthusiastically. This was not exactly the case. Mercer split time with Barmes in 2013, his first full season.
Barmes slashed .211/.249/.309 in 330 plate appearances that year while Mercer slashed .285/.336/.435 in 365. It was frustrating to watch the two split at bats and made little sense. Barmes was a very good defender and played the mentor role well, but Mercer should have gotten the majority of playing time after he posted a 120 wRC+ both in May and June of that year.
Whatever playing time Mercer was robbed of in 2013 was certainly compensated over the next four seasons. Since Opening Day 2014 until now, Mercer ranks sixth among all shortstops in games played. He’s been on the DL only once.
Consider the state of the organization as a whole over Mercer’s tenure. While the farm system has had some impressive years, it has always lacked a good shortstop prospect in the upper minors. This is evident when looking at the past options behind Mercer. No backup has ever been a threat to take his position. Some names include Barmes, Pedro Florimon, and Sean Rodriguez. More recently, there have been young players such as Adam Frazier or Max Moroff that cannot play shortstop everyday because of either their bat, glove, or both.
The lack of shortstop depth was finally addressed in January of 2015 when the Pirates signed Jung-Ho Kang. Still, Mercer played the bulk of innings at short that year as he was far superior defensively than Kang. Kang he never saw time at shortstop again after his brutal knee injury late in 2015. Remove Mercer from the picture from 2014-17 and things look very bleak for the Pirates at shortstop.
Shortstops don’t grow on trees
If Mercer were somehow abducted by aliens in those years, the Pirates would have easily found a replacement or even upgrade, right? Probably not. As we know, the front office is seldom one to trade from the farm for an impact player. Also, major league starting shortstops are not necessarily easy to acquire via trade.
In 2018, only Didi Gregorius of the New York Yankees stands out as a guy who was acquired without giving up much in return. Free agency offers even less hope as a means to acquire a starting shortstop. Of all 30 starting shortstops in baseball this year (per FanGraphs depth charts), the Kansas City Royals’ Alcides Escobar is the only free agent signee.
If Mercer had never developed into a quality shortstop and remained so durable, the Pirates most likely would have filled the position with replacement level talent over the past four years. The production Mercer has given the Pirates over the years should not be taken lightly as he plays out his final year under team control.
Mercer has started the 2018 season decently at the plate hitting .278/.341/.389 in 41 plate appearances. Thus far, his strikeouts are a tick down from career norms.
Enjoy Jordy Mercer this season. Marvel at his soft hands, quick instincts, and fancy footwork around second base. Smile when you see a shot of him and his old mangled glove. Bob your head to The Fire as he steps to the plate. Take a moment to appreciate what he’s brought to the club. Mercer has been the starting shortstop of the best Pirate team in my lifetime.
Thank the baseball gods that you haven’t been watching whatever the alternative would have been over the past four years.