Jordy Mercer returns to Pirates – what does this mean for team?


Jordy Mercer was recently reinstated from the disabled list, to the joy of all Pirates’ fans. His return means a number of things, none of which can be really be bad. If you missed it, we recently broke down what the return of Josh Harrison means to the Pirates, so make sure to check that out here. In case for some crazy reason you missed this development, Mercer was reinstated on Sunday afternoon, and Travis Ishikawa was placed on the 15-day DL with what is being called a “low back strain.”

The only realistic candidates to be removed from the active roster for Mercer were Ishikawa or Sean Rodriguez, and Rodriguez’s defense seems to have put him in decent favor with the coaches, at least over Ishikawa or Pedro Florimon. This DL trip may be a “phantom” DL trip, as, at least to my knowledge, there were no signs of Ishikawa being in any sort of pain. Nonetheless, this move was one that we all saw coming.

Mercer got into the game on Sunday night as a defensive replacement late in the game, and broke into the starting lineup for Monday night’s game against the Marlins, leaving Aramis Ramirez as the odd man out, at least for last night’s game.

Now that Mercer is back, the only key Pirates’ player that we are waiting to return is A.J. Burnett. Unless a move is made before the August 31st waiver trade deadline (which seems unlikely considering the lack of any sort of trade rumor surrounding the team at the moment), this is the main group of position players that we’ll see down the stretch. When rosters expand on September 1st, the Pirates could also see guys like Alen Hanson or Jaff Decker contribute, but any minor leaguers that are called up most likely won’t make a major impact in September and October.

So, what does Mercer himself bring back to this team? And what does his return mean for this team moving forward? The answer: a deeper bench, added lineup flexibility, and a late game defensive replacement, all of which are nothing but good things.

For starters, Mercer, most importantly, improves the bench. Both he and Harrison were starters at the beginning of the season, and their additions mean you now have starters to use as pinch-hitters late in games, who are much better than the likes of Ishikawa and Florimon. The ability to have good pinch-hitters will be huge late in the season and in the playoffs, as every run will matter now more than ever.

You can even look at the immediate improvement Mercer provides over the guy he technically replaced in Ishikawa. Mercer’s 2015 line (not including Monday night’s game): .241/.288/.314. Ishikawa’s 2015 line: .203./.299/.305. Yes, Ishikawa has a much smaller sample size this year than Mercer does, but Mercer still has better numbers, and Ishikawa has a lower wins above replacement as well.

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Those who supported Mercer early in the season starting at shortstop over Jung Ho Kang often cited his reliable defensive play as their main reason for this. Mercer does play defense very well, and by putting him at shortstop and moving Kang to third, you can remove Ramirez’s poor defense from the game and move Kang to his stronger defensive position at third base. This may not be ideal to start a game when the team needs runs, but it makes sense later in the game when the Pirates have a lead and want to protect it. Ramirez has made numerous blunders at third this year, and the ability to sub Mercer in as a defensive replacement will be a big advantage for a team that also sports a dynamic bullpen; an improved defense can only make a great bullpen even better.

And added lineup flexibility is always a good thing. Clint Hurdle now has the ability to rest Kang or another starter if he wants to, or he can get creative when devising a lineup to face a lefty pitcher, subbing someone like Neil Walker out of the lineup if need be.

Hopefully Hurdle doesn’t try to get too creative, though. The addition of Jordy Mercer gives the Pirates a big upgrade to their bench, adds lineup flexibility, and gives the team a good late-game defensive replacement. But Mercer shouldn’t be used in a starting capacity too often in September. Runs win games, and additional offense in the lineup should almost always outweigh bad defense (Pedro Alvarez is a peculiar case in that regard). Mercer has not been a very good offensive player this season, and removing Ramirez or Kang from the lineup by adding Mercer could hurt the team more than help it. Mercer should be used as a very rare spot starter and a bat or fielder off the bench late in games, which will certainly help the Pirates. Now we all will wait anxiously until A.J. Burnett returns to complete this exciting Pirates’ team.

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