2013 was a breakout year for Pirate SS Jordy Mercer. After a hot start to his age 26 season at AAA Indianapolis he earned a promotion to the majors in early May and never looked back. By mid-June Mercer had wrestled away the majority of the playing time at shortstop from Clint Barmes. It is safe to say that Jordy Mercer is now an established major league baseball player. For the first time in his career he is a lock to make the roster when the Pirates break from Spring Training. His role will be expanded in 2014. The Pirates did retain Barmes but they did so with the understanding he would have a lesser role. It is clear the Pirates intend to give Mercer the bulk of the playing time in 2014.
I don’t think people realize how good Jordy Mercer really was offensively in 2013. Only four other shortstops in team history had a greater wRC+ than the 113 that Mercer posted last season (minimum 350 plate appearances). Dick Groat did it once. Groat had a 116 wRC+ in 1960 and won the NL MVP that season. Jay Bell did it twice. The others were Hall of Famers Honus Wagner (14 times) and Arky Vaughan (10 times). That is some prestigious company. Mercer’s .772 OPS in 2013 ranked 8th among all shortstops in the league, just after Stephen Drew and before Jean Segura.
The question is can Jordy Mercer reproduce the same sort of offensive production in an expanded role in 2014? I’m skeptical. I think some regression is due. Mercer really padded his stats by destroying left handed pitching. In 89 plate appearances against southpaws Mercer posted a triple slash line of .410/.460/.692. That is a whopping 1.152 OPS against left handed pitching. Against right handed pitching he posted a modest .654 OPS. Nothing from Mercer’s minor league history suggests he can continue to dominate left handed pitching like that. His highest OPS in the minors vs. left handed pitching was in 2011 when splitting time between AA Altoona and AAA Indianapolis he posted a lefty/righty OPS split of .892/.710. The lefty/righty OPS splits for his entire minor league career is just .729/.673. Mercer really has two things working against him. The numbers he posted against left handed pitching last season are unsustainable while no evidence exists that he has a particularly high ceiling against right handed pitching. And the Pirates see an awful lot of right handed pitching. Last season they faced a league low 31 left handed starting pitchers. Because of this I’m predicting Mercer will regress to a triple slash line of .263/.318/.407
The good news for Pirate fans is that Jordy Mercer performed so good with the bat last season that he has some room for regression and can still be a productive SS. A .725 OPS isn’t terrible for a major league SS. That is right around middle of the pack offensive production. If Jordy Mercer can improve the other parts of his game he would still be a very valuable SS. Mercer was a below average defensive SS last season. His UZR/150 was just -9.4. Some improvement in this area of his game would compensate for some loss in offensive production. Mercer’s defensive deficiencies are one of the main reasons that Clint Barmes was retained. Barmes is a plus defender. Because the Pirates employ a ground ball heavy pitching staff, defensive play carries more significance. If Mercer continues to struggle defensively it will eat into some of his playing time, especially if his bat regresses. I do believe Mercer is a better defender than his 2013 advanced metrics showed. I think he will improve with the glove in 2014 and be close to a league average defensive shortstop.
Without further ado, here are the final estimations I’m using as inputs for Wahoo’s on First WAR Calculator to estimate the 2014 WAR for Jordy Mercer:
OBP – .318
SLG – .407
Plate Appearances – 510
Games – 130
Position – SS
Defense – 4 (league avg)
Base Running – 3 (league avg)
And the verdict for Jordy Mercer 2014 WAR is… 2.5