Jordy Mercer’s Early Success


Jordy Mercer has been one of the most frustrating players on the Pirate roster over the course of the last few seasons. The former 2008 third round pick performed decent in the Minors slashing .268/.325/.403 and playing solid enough defense at both shortstop and second base. He split time in the Majors and Minors in 2012, playing in only 42 Major League games and slashing .210/.265/.371 in 68 plate appearances, and didn’t become fully entrenched on the Major League roster until July 6.

He began the 2013 season at AAA Indianapolis before being called up on May 3 due to Neil Walker being placed on the 15 day disabled list with a right hand laceration retroactive to April 27. In the nine games he played in, Mercer hit .258/.281/.613, showing good pop as two of his eight hits were doubles and three were home runs. The team sent Mercer back down on May 13 when they activated Walker, but he was recalled just two days later on the 15th.

On the season, Mercer played in a total of 103 games and started in 84 of them. He hit a respectable .285/.336/.435, but his BABIP of .330 showed he would regress some. His defense was not the best that year, however. He finished with a -4.7 UZR/150, and he ranked 33rd among the 37 shortstops to have played a minimum 450 innings.  Mercer had -2 defensive runs saved, which ranking 23rd, and his .962 fielding percentage ranked 32nd ahead of only Hanley Ramirez, Ronny Cedeno, Marwin Gonzalez, Eduardo Nunez, and Jonathan Villar. His defense was not up to par with what Clint Barmes provided and it was below league average all together, but his bat looked to play.

Jun 15, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop
Jun 15, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop /

After two incredibly slow starts to 2014 and 2015, patience was running low with many Pirate fans about Mercer. In 2013 and 2014 combined, Mercer slashed .181/.248/.189, with only one extra base hit, six RBIs, and a 0.38 BB/K in 37 starts and 42 games played in April. Simply, he couldn’t hit in April the two previous years, but it did not stop there.

In May of those two years, Mercer hit .208/.234/.302 with 11 doubles, one home run, 10 RBIs, and a 0.16 BB/K in 38 starts and 46 games. He has begun his turnaround in June the last two years, hitting .285/.320/.446, having the second most home runs for a Pirate in June in 2014 and 2015 combined, 24 RBIs, and a 0.29 BB/K in 49 starts and 51 games. Overall the last two seasons, he has slashed a .250/.300/.358 with an 83 OPS+, 15 home runs, 89 RBIs, and a 0.38 BB/K in 265 games.

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Mercer did provide solid defense those two years as his UZR/150 of 1.2 ranked ninth, his nine defensive runs saved ranked fifth, and his .984 fielding percentage ranked third of the 22 qualified shortstops. Simply put, his defense was above the middle of the pack and his bat, despite starting off really slow, was good enough as long as he hit eighth and played defense the way he did.

This year, though, we’ve seen a different Jordy Mercer. We’ve seen a Jordy Mercer who has been a tremendous bat. A bat that not only plays excellently batting eighth, but a bat that is extraordinary against left-handed pitching, like his career splits show, and that has him leading off any time the Pirates face a left-handed starter.

Jordy Mercer has played in 32 games so far this year, and he has started all 32 he has played in, garnering only one off day in a 7-1 loss against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday, April 23. In those games, Mercer has slashed a .289/.385/.355 with 14 RBIs, and a remarkable BB/K of 1, which ranks tied for tenth in all of baseball. Among 28 qualified shortstops, Mercer ranks seventh in average, third in on-base percentage (33rd of 194 qualified in all of baseball), his wRC+ of 104 is eleventh, his walk percentage of 12.2 percent is third, he has the fifth lowest strikeout percentage at 12.2 percent, and his BB/K of 1 ranks first.

Mercer has turned himself into an offensive threat this season, despite the lack of power. The biggest reason for his turnaround has been his ability to not swing at pitches outside of the strike zone. His o-swing (measures swings at pitches outside of the strike zone) is a career best 26.6 percent, which is 5.6 percent better than his career mark of 32.2 percent.

Mercer’s swing percentage this season is 41 percent, which is down four percent from his career rate of 45 percent. Jordy also is featuring a contact percentage of 84.1 percent, 1.3 percent better than his 82.8 percent career contact percentage. Most importantly his swing and miss percentage is 6.4 percent, 1.2 percent down from his career 7.6 percent.

The two other huge indicators of his increased presence of his bat, is his walk and strike out percentage. His 12.2 percent walk rate is 5.5 percent higher than his career 6.7 percent walk rate, and his 12.2 percent strikeout rate is 4.2 percent lower than his career 16.4 percent strikeout rate. Despite his BABIP of .327, career mark of .299, putting the ball in play, walking more, and striking out less are all sustainable and should allow Mercer’s solid start to the season continue.

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As long as Jordy Mercer continues to get on-base, his success should remain and the Pirates offense will be able to keep up their success. Mercer hitting .304/.448/.435 is very comparable to his .323/.380/.486 against left handed pitching. Mercer can set the table when he bats first against left-handers, and he is able to help flip the order over by getting on in front of the pitcher. It’s a good sight to see, as Mercer may finally be starting to turn heads, and show why the Pirates have kept faith in the shortstop.

Other Mercer numbers:

  • Last seven days: .133/.350/.133, 1.67 BB/K
  • Last 14 days: .257/.395/.257, 2.00 BB/K
  • Last 28 days: .316/.417/.405, 1.56 BB/K

Even as he has struggled to get hits this season, he has been able to walk more than he has struck out.

  • Since 2014 when Jordy Mercer starts the Pirates are: 159-118 (.574) and when he does not, the Pirates are 45-35 (.5625) when Jordy Mercer does not start.

Numbers from baseball-reference and fangraphs Updated numbers as of  May 12