Stats Corner: Mercer rediscovers offensive game

| Saturday, July 26, 2014, 8:59 p.m.

Jordy Mercer provided thump at a position typically filled by offensive lightweights in 2013, compiling a .772 on base plus slugging percentage that ranked seventh among major league shortstops.

At 27 years old and fresh off the best-hitting year for a Pirates shortstop since Jack Wilson in 2004, Mercer seemingly had some job security.

Now, with Mercer dragging a .638 OPS into play Saturday, GM Neal Huntington may be exploring the trade market. Short of a blockbuster deal, however, Mercer could still be the Pirates' best option as they chase a second consecutive playoff appearance.

In April, Mercer hit like he swapped bodies with Mario Mendoza. He posted the worst OPS among qualified shortstops that month. But he has progressively turned back into an offensive threat, cracking the top five at the position in July.

Month OPS Rank among SS

April .404 30

May .594 24

June .735 14

July .761 5

Source: Fangraphs

Mercer's making harder contact, raising his line drive rate from 12.5 percent in April and May to 20 percent since June 1. Line drives fall for hits about 67 percent of the time, so the more frozen ropes, the better.

Unless the Pirates go big-game hunting, surrendering prized prospects and assuming more than $120 million in future salary to acquire Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki, there are few definite shortstop upgrades available.

Mercer is projected for a .675 OPS during the rest of 2014, according to the Steamer forecast system on Fangraphs. That's right around the MLB average for shortstops (.671) and similar to potential targets such as Elvis Andrus (.685), Alexei Ramirez (.685), Didi Gregorius (.684), Jimmy Rollins (.680) and Yunel Escobar (.673).

Internally, Double-A prospect Alen Hanson (.628 projected OPS) probably isn't ready for prime time. Josh Harrison could be an option, but he's projected to regress offensively (.701) and might be stretched defensively, considering the Pirates have the game's most ground ball-centric pitching staff.

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

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