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Jordy Mercer, a retrospective

Growing up, I developed an infatuation for shortstops. That’s reasonable enough, plenty of people have an admiration for that position. But my favorite shortstops generally weren’t all that good; they were fine players, average, nothing to write home about — in other words, they were accessible. I’ve got a childhood best friend who follows that same mantra. Being a Cubs fan, one of his favorite North-siders of all-time — or at least, for a period of time — was Ronny Cedeno, the career -0.7 fWAR shortstop who actually had his best seasons in Pittsburgh. We were/are odd.

Early last year, I wrote about how my first favorite Pirate was Jack Wilson (he doesn’t fit the “bad shortstop” template I laid out previously; he was pretty good for a stretch of time, particularly defensively). Then there came a time in the mid-2010s when Jordy Mercer could’ve very well been my favorite player.*

For that reason, the Twitter slander against Mercer became old and stale very quickly for me. Way back in the day — 2016, I believe — I wrote an article for a now-defunct blog that I ran wherein the titular argument was that Mercer deserved a Gold Glove.

From a traditionalists’ standpoint, Mercer had at least a modicum of a case to receive this award. He had a .985 fielding percentage and had committed nine errors. The eventual winner at short, the Giants’ Brandon Crawford, had a .983 fielding percentage.

In other facets of the game, Mercer didn’t fare as well. For example, his -6 DRS is simply not very good. Nonetheless, I implemented fancy graphs and tried to flex particular metrics into the article to fit my narrative (a practice I’ve abandoned), and I built a semi-plausible case that the Bucs’ shortstop could win the award.

I evidently had biases abound — or maybe I just needed new material. Aside from that snafu, what was Mercer’s time in Pittsburgh actually like?

To start, he amassed 7.7 fWAR over parts of seven season with the Pirates, with his greatest output coming in 2017 (1.5). His wRC+ hovered in the high-80s, apart from the aberration of his first season with prolonged playing time (103 games) in 2013, when his season-long wRC+ was 115. He also maintained an OPS that had a propensity to remain around the low-700s mark. Those metrics combine to make him right at average — or a little below average — offensively.

Defensively, his best season by DRS was in 2014 when he logged four defensive runs saved. His worst season was 2017 at -12. His career total at shortstop, including his stints with the Tigers and Yankees, is -39. But he has an overall fielding percentage of .980 throughout his career.

What does this quick glance at Mercer’s metrics tell us about the player? That, firstly, he’s not quite Jack Wilson, who totaled 10.9 fWAR with the Pirates. Apart from 2004 (103 wRC+, .794 OPS) and 2007 (102 wRC+, .791 OPS), however, Jack made most of his money with his glove. He was an excellent defensive shortstop who totaled 116 DRS over the span of his 11 year career (in 2005, he had 32 DRS). Secondly, Mercer was quite a bit better than someone like, say, Ronny Cedeno. I’m sure most of us expected that, but I thought I’d mention it anyway.

In short: Mercer is certainly a serviceable big leaguer, and it’s no surprise to see that he’s carved out just over seven years of service time. Currently, he’s still a member of the Yankees organization. Simply put, he doesn’t have many of the tools that help him to stick out in peoples’ minds. When reminiscing about Pirates’ baseball two decades from now, I’ll ask somebody whether or not they remember Mercer. That person’s likely response? “Oh, yeah. He was pretty solid” — an admirable, though not spectacular, contribution to Pirates’ history.

*Addendum: Andrew McCutchen was my favorite — and everybody’s favorite — but I also wanted to pick a player that didn’t fit into the canonical zeitgeist.