After a largely disappointing start to the season, Yermin Mercedes is the most surprising and exciting player in the White Sox offense after 16 games. Mercedes, who is responsible for 1. to 4. He was the AL Player of the Week in April and stayed hot in the 15 games he played, posting a .397 batting average, 1.108 OPS and a stellar 236 wRC+, including four home runs and 12 RBI. I don’t think Mercedes can match Ted Williams average of 400 points per season, but what does a sustainable level look like? I dove into the numbers to find out.
Yermin Mercedes’ background is well documented. He originally signed with the Washington National League in 2011 and bounced between the National League, Orioles, Dominican League and Independent League before the Charlotte Knights announced his departure in December 2017. Mercedes is playing his first season at the ripe old age of 28. Mercedes’ promotion to the top league alone is a truly remarkable story of hard work, dedication and perseverance.
If you compare Mercedes’ major league stats to his minor league career, you can expect some regression in the near future. His K% is just 14% so far this season, compared to Charlotte’s 19% in the 2019 AAA season. On top of that, his batting average in the game (BABIP) this year is .439, which is unsustainable for any player. Over the last few minor-league seasons, Yermin’s BABIP has hovered between a reasonable .300 and .350, showing a wide range of regression.
While it’s unlikely that his current production will last the entire season, Mercedes has proven that he can at least be a productive DH. And how exactly did he do that?
Yermin was still feasting on fastballs. Opponents throw him fastballs a little over half the time, and Mercedes is 12-23 with a .739 slugging percentage on those fastballs, while only blowing 7% of the time. Mercedes also breached the off-speed margins, going 6-9 with a slugging percentage of 1.444.
The fact that he had so much success with fastballs and off-speed pitches speaks volumes about his elevated approach at the plate. He clearly understands what pitchers are trying to do when he’s at the plate and knows what he needs to do to succeed.
What Yermin has trouble with is hitting balls. On the young season, he gave up just 4-21 goals for a .381 save percentage. He’s still dangerous against hanging hitters, as evidenced by his home run and two-hitter, so pitchers should still approach him with caution. But as the season progresses, I expect pitchers to attack Mercedes with many more batters.
Yermin’s progressive approach extends to his knowledge of the strike zone. When pitchers tried to attack him with more breaking balls just outside the zone, he managed to redeem himself well. For Mercedes to remain productive and see fastballs in baseball runs, he must continue to keep the difficult breaking pitches out of the way.
This will be the toughest game for Mercedes, simply because he is an aggressive hitter. Mercedes is striking out 49.5 percent of pitches this season, 35.6 percent of which are strikeouts. Both figures are slightly higher than the MLB averages of 46.4% and 30.4% respectively. If and when Mercedes inevitably finds herself in a difficult job, it will be important not to push and to expand her zone.
Mercedes’ emergence was exactly what the White Sox needed after the injury to Eloy Jimenez, and seeing him day-to-day has provided some bright spots in an inconsistent start to the season for the club. And while it’s unreasonable to expect him to sustain his MVP performance thus far, Mercedes’ advanced approach and power make him a very legitimate threat in the box and a potential solution to the White Sox’ long hole as a DH. Let’s hope that’s the last we see of him.
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