Can Jordy Mercer Help Rescue The Pirates’ Offense?

March 6, 2012; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer (69) throws over to first base during a spring training game against the New York Yankees. Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE

Now that Jordy Mercer has been called up, let's take a look at how much he might be able to help the woeful Bucs' offense at the shortstop position, where Clint Barmes has been one of the key non-contributors in a disastrous offensive attack of historical proportions.

A certain parallel is bound to be drawn to when Neil Walker came up to take the place of the sinkhole in the lineup that was Aki Iwamura a couple of years back. Mercer was never supposed to be quite the offensive player Walker was to be, and has not shown much previously in the minors, but as a defensive shortstop, he has definitely shown himself to have value.

In fact, Mercer's value was noted in a calculation of minor league WAR last year when he was one of the most valuable players in AAA when including their defensive WAR measurement. I wish I could remember where that article is (maybe someone can find and post it in the comments), but anyway, that's not the point of this post. This post is about his offensive potential and whether he is ready for MLB.

I'll look at his MLE (Major League Equivalents) and also compare him to my own statistical criteria for determining MLB readiness and success.

Let's look at the Major League Equivalents for Mercer's performance this year (taken from this MLE Calculator)...

.254/.309/.343 (.652 OPS)

This would put him around the average OPS for a shortstop in MLB, believe it or not. He would be 17th in the league between Yunel Escobar (.651) and Sean Rodiguez (.653) and around an 80 wRC+. What a huge difference that could make in the Pirates offense! The Pirates would have scored about 17 more runs on offense to date, and would merely be “bringing up the rear in MLB” bad, not “fallen completely off the table” bad.

Now, I like to look at things a bit differently when looking at readiness for the big leagues. I see hitting skill as a combination of these skills:

1) the ability to make contact,
2) the ability to hit the ball hard,
3) the ability to control the strike zone.

Here are the stats I see that best measure the skills above:

1) K/AB% (I want to see K% under 20%, if it is a singles hitter, I like to see under 15%).
2) AVG (I want to see over .300, if a singles hitter, I like to see .330)
3) BB/PA% (I want to see over 10%)
4) OBP (I want to see .370 or .380+)

So, let's take a look at whether Mercer is ready for the MLB test, according to the stats he's put up this year.

1) K/AB: 21%
2) AVG: .303
3) BB/PA: 9%
4) OBP: .379

Mercer is really, really close to all of those criteria. Now, the one caveat here is that Mercer is not a power hitter, with only a .417 SLG this year. While his K% and AVG would be pretty good if he were Pedro Alvarez or Jeff Clement, he's not. He is K'ing at 21% in AAA and yet still not hitting many extra base hits. This probably means that when his K% increases in MLB and his AVG goes down (it does to most players), it could do so precipitously. This can also spiral to affect walk rate as well, as it did with Pedro Alvarez.

Still, I would say that the MLE posted above is quite achievable for him with the skills he has shown at the AAA level. And there's a real chance that he could continue his progress and hit around .270/.325/.375. If he did, that would be excellent considering his defense and would push Barmes into a backup role or out the door pretty quickly.

If you are hoping Mercer might make the Pirates' K-K-K-K'ing numbers decline, well ... probably a bit. Barmes currently has a K/AB% of 28 percent, which is just awful for someone who is not a power hitter. Mercer's will probably rise from 21 percent to around 24 or 25 percent, so at least that's something, though not much.

Considering how this year's performance is a huge step forward for him from past years, there's the danger that Mercer's year so far is a mirage. Now, he's going to have his moment to prove whether he's worthy of the major leagues or not, and his stats this year have shown that he is at least deserving of the chance.

My prediction is that he does perform around the level of his MLEs above or a little better.

Place your own predictions in the comments, please!

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