With the free agency exit of shortstop Jose Iglesias, the Tigers find themselves in need of a middle infielder, and have no readily available options on the farm. With young players like Niko Goodrum and Jeimer Candelario manning the infield currently, it would make a lot of sense for the Tigers to target a veteran free agent who has established himself in the position. While keeping Iglesias would have made the most sense, the club has parted ways with him, clearly hoping to find an alternative on the open market.
Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer might be exactly what they’re hoping for.
Mercer, now 32 years old, has spent the entire seven-year duration of his professional career in Pittsburgh. In that time he has a .256/.316/.383 career average, and last season hit for .251/.315/.381, so right on par for his average. He did hit a mere 6 home runs and 39 RBIs, but also only appeared in 117 games for the club. He missed some time due to a left calf strain last season, as well as to minor finger injuries earlier in the year, but neither were major problems.
Mercer is not a defensive or offensive upgrade from Iglesias, but the numbers aren’t far off in a lot of categories. In 2018, Mercer had a wRC+ of 85, compared to Iglesias’s 90. Mercer had a 1.0 WAR, Iglesias has a 2.5, and both project to be lower in 2019. In defensive terms, Mercer is a step down for sure, with a -9 DRS to Iglesias’s +1 in 2018, but he isn’t a particular liability, even with that negative number.
Plate discipline is another interesting point of difference between the two. Iglesias rarely walked, collecting a mere 4.1% walk rate in 2018, but he also rarely struck out, with a 10.1% K%. This was pretty par for the course throughout Iglesias’s career. Mercer, on the other hand, has a 7.3% walk rate, and a whopping 20% strikeout rate—double that of Iglesias.
It’s interesting to note that Mercer, who has been a groundball-heavy hitter for the bulk of his career, saw a near 10% drop in his GB numbers this past season, coming in at 38.4% compared to his typical 45%+ (he regularly averaged almost 50% groundballs each season). His line drive numbers saw the biggest increase in this change, jumping up to 27.4 from around a 20% average previously. He also saw an increase in pull hits last season, all of which suggests he has done something different in his plate approach. While it has yet to yield much on field success in the numbers, it’s still interesting to see Mercer developing something new in the latter stage of his career, and it would be intriguing to see what exposure to a new hitting coach could do with him.
Iglesias, too, saw a shift in his hitting results this past season, away from the groundball and towards a pretty sizable uptick in his flyball numbers, up from about a 25% average to 33.5% in 2018, a career high. His groundball numbers saw an almost 10% drop.
All this to say that with the exit of Iglesias, and the Tigers in need of a quality shortstop replacement, Jordy Mercer seems to be the kind of candidate who could easily be slotted into the Tigers infield without rocking the boat too much. Cost might be the only problem. Not because he’s going to be expensive, but because there are rumors circulating that the Pirates may look to re-sign him, as they understand how sparse the shortstop free agent market is. The Tigers might need to pay more than they’d like to secure the veteran infielder if there is even a small amount of competition for him.