As we continue to break down each of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ position from 2017 here at Rum Bunter next up is shortstop.
Shortstop has seemingly been an issue for the Pittsburgh Pirates since Jack Wilson was traded in 2008. Issues at shortstop continued for the Pirates in 2017 as starting shortstop Jordy Mercer was once again a below average hitter and an average defender.
2017 was Jordy Mercer’s sixth season in the Major Leagues and fourth as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ everyday shortstop. However, Mercer’s play has always left a lot to be desired.
In 2017 Jordy Mercer did own a career-best 9.1 percent walk rate and his 15.8 percent strikeout rate was the second-lowest of his career. Mercer also hit 14 home runs which is a new career-high. Despite these factors, Mercer owned just a .326 on-base percentage, a .308 wOBA, and a wRC+ of 88.
While Mercer’s .982 fielding percentage was tied with Brandon Crawford for second among National League shortstops, his defensive runs saved of -2 was well below league average. Mercer would go on to finish the season with a 1.4 fWAR, which was just seventh out of 12 qualifying National League shortstops.
During the 2017 season Jordy Mercer was undoubtedly the primary shortstop for the Pirates. He started 145 of the team’s 162 games at shortstop. Adam Frazier, Max Moroff, and Sean Rodriguez all started games at shortstop as well for the Bucs last season.
Neither Frazier nor Rodriguez should ever start at shortstop due to how poor they are defensively at this position. Moroff, however, is a different story. Moroff had a 1.000 fielding percentage at shortstop in 2017 and a 29.1 UZR/150. While Moroff will never be an everyday player due to his bat, his glove makes him a great option as a backup middle infielder.
Last season shortstop was a position of weakness for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Moving forward, it appears that it will remain a position of weakness. Jordy Mercer is set to hit free agency following the 2018 season, but he will almost assuredly remain as the team’s shortstop in 2018.
Behind Mercer, there is no clear answer. As was said above, Max Moroff is a strong defender at shortstop but his bat takes away any chance of him being an everyday player. At Triple-A the Pittsburgh Pirates have a top-100 prospect in shortstop Kevin Newman. However, there are questions about Newman’s ability to stick at shortstop defensively and his offense has slumped in recent seasons.
You can read more about Newman and the future of the Pirates at shortstop here.
Shortstop has been an issue for the Pirates for nearly a decade now. In 2017 it was, yet again, a weak position for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
When the Bucs made the postseason in 2013, 2014, and 2015 the rest of the team was strong enough that it did not matter. However, the past two seasons poor shortstop play has plagued the Pirates more due to the rest of the team dealing with injuries, suspensions, off the field issues, and poor pitching.
Thankfully, the Jordy Mercer Era will end after the 2018 season. The problem is Cole Tucker may not be Major League ready yet in 2019 and Kevin Newman is probably not the answer at shortstop. This may lead to the Bucs needing a stopgap at shortstop following the 2018 season. But that is an issue to worry about a year from now.