2016 Pirate Position Preview: Shortstop
As we continue to breakdown the 2016 Pittsburgh Pirate position groups here at Rum Bunter, today we take a look at what, in my opinion, is the only position of weakness of the Pirate roster – shortstop.
For a third consecutive season the starting shortstop for the Pirates will be Jordy Mercer. Mercer is a below average hitter possessing a .257/.308/.378/.686 career slash line, with a .296 wOBA and a wRC+ of 89. Mercer’s career OPS, wOBA, and wRC+ are all well below league average numbers.
Mercer is an average defender at shortstop, having finished the 2015 season with 0 defensive runs saved and a UZR/150 of 2.0. Mercer is very comparable to Neil Walker in that he will make the play on almost every ball he gets to, but there are a lot of balls most shortstops get to that Mercer does not.
Last year was the worst offensive season of Jordy Mercer’s career. Mercer slashed .244/.293/.320/.613 all of these numbers were a career worst for Mercer. His .265 wOBA, 68 wRC+, and -14.9 offensive WAR were all career lows as well.
Due to his combination of below average offense and average defense, Mercer was just a 0.5 WAR player last year. League average for WAR is 1.0.
The primary backup to Mercer at shortstop this season will be either Pedro Florimon or Cole Figueroa. Both Florimon and Figueroa are strong defensive players who have a lot of question marks offensively. Odds are, Florimon will be the one who wins the spot out of Spring Training.
In 25 plate appearances for the Pirates last year Florimon slashed .087/.160/.174/.334 with a 154 wOBA and a -9 wRC+. In 717 career plate appearances between the Pirates and Twins Florimon owns a slash line of .199/.262/.295/.557, a .250 wOBA, wRC+ of 52, and a career offensive WAR of -31.0.
Florimon does, however, have a career defensive WAR of 13.6. This included posting a career high 9.9 defensive WAR, and 1.3 overall WAR, in 2013 with Minnesota. Florimon also brings a speed element to the table that neither Mercer nor Figueroa do.
As for Figueroa, he has just 57 career Major League plate appearances. However, Figueroa is a career .290 Minor League hitter and owns a strong .375 on base percentage. Figueroa is also more of an utility player than a pure shortstop like Florimon is. Figueroa can play all across the infield and the outfield.
Personally, I would take Figueroa north as my backup shortstop at the end of Spring Training. I would do this because he has posted strong offensive numbers throughout his Minor League career, while Pedro Florimon has proven he can not hit Major League pitching, so it is possible his offense could somewhat translate to the Majors. Furthermore, I like that Figueroa is more of an utility option than Florimon is.
Starting second baseman Josh Harrison and utility bench man Sean Rodriguez have both played shortstop in the past. However, anyone who has ever watched them play shortstop will tell you neither of these players should ever do it again. So I do not expect either of them to factor in at shortstop at all.
I also would not expect to see Jung-Ho Kang play shortstop at all due to his knee injury. The Pirates would be a much stronger team offensively with Josh Harrison at third base, Jung-Ho Kang at shortstop, and top prospect Alen Hanson at second base. Unfortunately, that is not feasible defensively.
In my opinion there is only one position where the 2016 Pittsburgh Pirates are weak, and that position is shortstop. Jordy Mercer has proven he is not the shortstop of the future he appeared to be in 2012 and 2013, and neither Pedro Florimon nor Cole Figueroa is the answer either.
Shortstop could be a real struggle for the Pirates in 2016. Luckily for them, the rest of the team is very strong. I would not be surprised at all if the Pirates end up in the market for shortstop help when the trade deadline rolls around.
2016 Pittsburgh Pirates Position Group Previews