Well, the great Jordy Mercer experiment is off and running. By eyeball, Mercer's offensive production dwarfs Barmes, while the glove edge still leans heavily to the vet. Do the cold numbers back up the visuals?
Mercer's line after 126 AB is .286/.328/.460 with a .789 OPS; Barmes' at 164 AB is .201/.234/.268 with a .502 OPS. Mercer's walk rate is 5.1%, K-rate 19.7% and ISO .175; Barmes numbers are 2.3%, 22.2% and .067. As far as counting numbers, Mercer has 4 HR, 11 RBI and 14 runs; Barmes 2 HR, 10 RBI and 5 runs.
Jordy also offers some lineup versatility; he's hit in the two-hole in a third of his games with a .304 BA and .328 OBA, so he's not limited to the bottom of the lineup card. And he is the first starting Pirate SS to have an OPS over .701 since Jack Wilson in 2007.
The clearest sabermetric comparison is in Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), which measures how a player’s run creation compares with the league average of 100 and is basically a tweaked OPS+. Mercer's is at 116, higher than that of Neil Walker (112) or Garrett Jones (102). Barmes is at 38, the same as Brandon Inge and just above Gerrit Cole and Bryan Morris at 36.
There's no contest at the dish, but we knew that without the data tsunami.
For fielding we've decided to take the most basic elements and compare them. As far as innings at short, Barmes has played about twice as many as Mercer (426-2/3 to 210-1/3) so the projections are pretty easy.
Barmes has handled 194 chances in the field, with 49 PO, 138 assists and 7 errors. Mercer has had 111 chances with 37 PO, 70 assists and 4 errors. If you double Mercer's numbers to roughly equalize the innings, the totals are:
Barmes - 194 chances, 49 put outs, 138 assists, 7 errors (.964 FA);
Mercer - 222 chances, 74 put outs, 140 assists, 8 errors (.964 FA).
Of course, all those counting numbers mean is that the overall production is roughly equal, not the quality of play. The more advanced numbers point to Barmes' superior range.
Barmes has made 30 out-of-zone plays to Mercer's 11, a measurement of range plus conversion. Barmes has started 16 DP to Mercer's 6 (although Mercer has a big edge in DP pivots). Barmes makes the routine play more often, 83% of the time to 79% for Mercer. The glovework gap shows in the defensive runs saved - Barmes has 3, which is above average, and Mercer 0, which is exactly average.
To us, this is a case where the eyes don't lie. The bat is all Jordy's, and the glove still belongs to Barmes. But the chasm in hitting is so huge that it overcomes the smaller, though measurable, fielding differences.
Jordy Mercer is a different kind of shortstop than Pittsburgh is used to seeing, a little more based on the American League model of an offense-first guy with average defensive skills per his small sample size. He’s not likely to keep up his level of production at the plate all year, but the updated projection services have him ending with an approximate line of .265/.310/.415, not bad numbers from a rookie SS. We're thinking that he's potentially in the mold of a Jhonny Peralta type player; time will tell.
Barmes is the kind of guy that a ground ball staff loves - in the field. But he hits like a pitcher, and that creates an inning-killing vacuum in the lineup, especially in the NL where you can't hide a guy behind a DH's skirts.
So through attrition, the Bucs have an everyday shortstop that doesn't clog the lineup and can handle the position, albeit without the grace of Clint Barmes or the last regular starter, Jack Wilson, who was a master of cleaning up the routine plays. And Barmes is where he should be, a glove-first, multi-positional guy on the bench that can be brought in to close out games in the field, and there's value in that. It may not have been planned that way in camp, but the Pirates have strengthened their lineup and bench by flipping the pair.