Pittsburgh Pirates: Is Clint Barmes Worth His Glove?

By Stacey Kengal
Clint Barmes
Vincent Pugllese – USA TODAY SPORTS

One thing is for sure, Clint Barmes can play shortstop. There’s no doubt about that.

The question is, like many players at his position, is his glove worth his bat?

With the exception of catcher, shortstop at the major league level may be the most demanding everyday position on the field. Pitchers are in a category all by themselves, and they don’t play everyday. It takes more than just a strong arm and a solid glove to excel at short. In addition to those prerequisites, athleticism, instincts, experience and leadership all play a role in making a good defensive shortstop, and it’s obvious from watching Barmes apply his trade day in and day out that he has everything he needs to elevate his fielding game above the average everyday Joes.

But damn, the guy just can’t hit. With a .220 average as a two-year Pirate so far, it seems much of the time, Barmes battles just to stay above the proverbial Mendoza Line. A hot streak here and there is the only thing that seems to keep his batting average above the .200 mark.

No doubt hitting a baseball at the major league level is like trying to catch a fart in a wind tunnel for the rest of us, but there has to be a certain level of performance, a line of acceptance for a big league hitter. Before modern expansion, anything below the .200 mark would most likely get you sent back down to the minors, let alone allow you to be in the starting lineup. Times change though, and the bar for acceptable plate performance changes with it. Barmes certainly tests that bar in any era. So for all his great play out there in the field, the question remains; does it translate into more wins for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

Backup shortstop Jordy Mercer‘s stellar play of late, especially at the plate, has raised some eyebrows and spurred many Pirate fans to push for his insertion in the everyday starting lineup. Mercer’s a better hitter, but it’s doubtful he could pull off the same percentage of difficult plays Barmes seems to make look so easy night after night out there.

Were the Pirates presenting a more formidable offensive lineup  (and it still may turn out they will), Barmes is your man. The 1927 Yankees (110-44!) could afford to have Mario Mendoza himself out there at shortstop and still win. Though they had Mark Koenig, a pretty good hitter himself in his day. But hey, that’s why they were the ’27 Yankees! The current typical Pirates’ offensive output over the last two seasons calls into question how long they can afford a great-field no-hit shortstop and expect to advance to the next level of postseason play.

Sabermetrics, as wonderful of a tool as it is, can’t really solve the debate. How do you measure a two-out diving, impossible backhand stop in the bottom of the 12th in Game 7 of a pressure-cooked World Series that keeps the tying run from scoring after you just went 0-5 at the plate? You can’t measure (or predict) intangibles like that.

The only way to find out is to make the move and see what happens. Give Mercer a shot as the everyday shortstop. There are no guarantees out there, and hindsight is always 20/20. But the Pirates need more offense, and that is obvious to anyone watching them struggle nightly to put more than a few runs on the board. Perhaps moving Mercer into the starting role at short is the right move now. Barmes can still come in as a defensive replacement in the late innings.

One thing is for sure, Clint Barmes can play shortstop. There’s no doubt about that.

Stacey Kengal is a Pittsburgh Pirates’ writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @StaceyKengal, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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