Pittsburgh Pirates 2017 ZiPS Projections: Shortstop

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Here at Rum Bunter we have been dissecting the newly released ZiPS projections for the 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates. Next up: shortstop.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have lacked at shortstop the last few seasons, and since Neal Huntington’s first full season in Pittsburgh in 2008, the Pirates rank 27th in fWAR at the position.  The collective unit has posted a measly 76 wRC+, with the best two marks being Jung Ho Kang (129 wRC+) in 2015 and Jordy Mercer (115) in 2013.  But both had less than 500 plate appearances.  Of the three players to have over 500 plate appearances at shortstop, Jordy Mercer’s 2014 ranks first (91), then Mercer in 2016 (89), and finally Ronny Cedeno in 2010 (81).

The Pirates haven’t had a good hitting shortstop since 2007, when Jack Wilson posted a 102 wRC+, which ranked 12th among the 26 qualified shortstops.  The hitting at the position has been lackluster, but the fielding has been a tad above average.

Since 2008, the Pirates rank 12th in defensive runs saved at the position, but that mostly falls on two players who didn’t play everyday.  Wilson leads the team in drs, at 36, but he did so in only 1347 innings, his defense was extremely valuable.  Like Wilson, Clint Barmes was a weak hitter, but he fielded the position well, posting 28 runs saved in 2155.2 innings.  But after that, the only two positive players are Luis Cruz (3) and Pedro Florimon (2), who both did so in less than 300 innings, a very small sample.

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Cedeno had -3 defensive runs saved, not good, but not disastrous.  Mercer, through his career, is at -1 runs saved, but he has gone from 9, to 0, to -9 since 2014.

This has been a source of struggle for the Pirates, and that is expected to continue.

After having a solid start to his career in 2013, posting a 115 wRC+, Jordy Mercer struggled at the start of 2014, but a strong second half (108 wRC+), Mercer ended the season with a 91 wRC+.  However, his 2015 season was disastrous at the plate.  Mercer posted a measly wRC+ of 67 in 430 plate appearances.  He was limited due to an injury, an incredibly terrible slide by Carlos Gomez, but pre injury he had a 62 wRC+ in 298 plate appearances and a 78 wRC+ in 132 plate appearances.  He just didn’t have the bat.

2016 for Mercer was the opposite of 2014, he started off strong.  Through the end of July, Mercer posted a 104 wRC+ in 392 plate appearances.   But in the final two months, Mercer’s wRC+ was just 60, and he finished at a wRC+ of 89.

So we know Mercer will be below average, it’s just by how much in the projection is the question, and how will the other options compare?  ZiPS is a projection tool, but offers this disclaimer:

"Performances have not been allocated to predicted playing time in the majors — many of the players listed above are unlikely to play in the majors at all in 2017"

ZiPS projects Mercer to hit just .256/.314/.375 with a 7.1 percent walk rate, 15.5 percent strikeout rate, and a .289 wOBA.  The projection has Mercer doing what he always does, put the ball into play, but with his limited power (career .120 ISO), his offense will suffer, seen by the very weak .289 wOBA.  This puts Mercer at a below average bat once again, and his zWAR of 1.4 is nothing to write home about.

His future replacement, however, ZiPS has confidence that he would have similar production to Mercer right now.  ZiPS has Kevin Newman as a .270/.320/.368 hitter with a 6.2 percent walk rate, 10.6 percent strikeout rate, and a .305 wOBA if he played in the show.  Newman’s main tool is the hit tool, but he lacks power, and in this projection by ZiPS, he has less power than Mercer. Newman is projected to a 1.7 zWAR from ZiPS, which is more valuable than Mercer, and that comes through in the defense, with Newman at 1 and Mercer at -3.

Next: MLB Pipeline Top 10 Third Baseman

Overall, the Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop position seems to be rather weak again in 2016. Something that has been an ongoing theme since 1991-1994 Jay Bell, mixed in with contributions in small samples from Jung Ho Kang, and randomly above average offensive seasons from defensive great Jack Wilson.

*Numbers from fangraphs

Other ZiPS Projections