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The Yerminator has been terminated, and we should have seen it coming.
Not only was Yermín Mercedes never going to hit .300, and perhaps not even close to it, but changes in today's game were stacked against him from the very beginning.
Please understand. When the White Sox former-Designated Hitter started the season with eight straight hits and was clipping along with a slash line of .415/.455/1.113 at the close of April, he had created a burgeoning legend. His energy, confidence, demeanor, and that strong stocky frame, energized the team and its fandom the first month of the season. He closed the gap that the devastating injury to Eloy Jiménez had left in the middle of the club's lineup.
This was an unexpected, exciting development, and if you got caught up in the overt joy and the I-can't-believe-it passion of it all, you were not alone.
However, when Mercedes was shipped out to Charlotte last Friday, his slashing had diminished to .162/.236/.443 over 32 games beginning on May 18. He had homered once in that stretch.
Some observers blamed manager Tony La Russa for chastising his 28-year-old rookie for his ill-fated 3-0 swing, and resulting home run, against the Twins in a 16-4 blowout. While that might have blindsided Mercedes, sending him into a funk, far more important factors determined his unfortunate turnaround, not the least of which were pitchers who quickly began exploiting his weaknesses. Word tends to travel fast in the world of major league baseball.
The role of the DH, except in a few specific cases, also doomed Mercedes. He stopped hitting, the only skill asked of him, while more talented teammates languished on the bench. The Sox weren't able to abide by this arrangement.
The rationale behind the birth of the designated hitter in the American League back in 1973 was a solution for putting more offense into the game and eliminating an almost-sure out by having pitchers grab a bat. When Ron Blomberg, then of the Yankees, stepped to the plate on April 6, 1973 as the first designated hitter in baseball history, aging players, who couldn't run but still could hit, also got a new lease on their careers.
Frank Thomas, the greatest hitter in White Sox history, played just 38 games in the field the last eight seasons (2001-08) of his career before retiring at 40. Another Sox Hall-of-Famer, Harold Baines, was a fine outfielder until his knees dictated that he become a full-time DH. Baines played until he was 42, but during his final nine seasons (1993-2001), he appeared in only two innings in right field. That was in a Sox game in 1997 when, fortunately, Harold wasn't called upon the handle a fly ball.
Of course, the Big Hurt and Harold were not alone as far as veteran players whose physical limitations no longer permitted them to play defense. The careers of Paul Molitor and Edgar Martinez were extended by eight and 10 seasons, respectively, once they became full-time DHs. Same with Big Papi in Boston.
We have very few of those kinds of designated hitters in the game today. With the notable exception of the Twins' Nelson Cruz, who turned 41 last week, DHs in present lineups usually are regular players who take turns in the designated hitter spot. Rotating the DH gives managers an opportunity to give players like José Abreu and Yasmani Grandal a bit of a rest as they don't have to play in the field. Almost every American League club employs this arrangement.
Cruz's 66 appearances at DH this season is the most by any player. He hasn't played in the field all season, and that is unlikely to change. The Yankees' Giancarlo Stanton is the only other player to toil solely as a DH, appearing in 60 games without being called upon to play in the field. In fact, the oft-injured Stanton, who's only 31, has been a one-way player the past two seasons.
Other players, like Boston's J.D. Martinez, Houston's Yordan Alvarez and Tampa Bay's Austin Meadows, might be their team's primary designated hitter, but they all also play frequently in the field. Even future Hall-of-Famer Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, now 38 and in his 19th season, has almost as many starts at first base (28) as he does at DH (34). Meanwhile, Mercedes, a catcher by trade, has played only two innings this season in the field, the second of which came in the ninth inning of last Wednesday's 13-3 blowout of the Twins.
You have to assume that La Russa and the Sox front office have a low opinion of the Yerminator's ability as a catcher. However, in nine minor league seasons, he threw out 38 percent of would-be base stealers. So far this season, Grandal has cut down seven of 24 steal attempts for a 23 percent mark, while Zack Collins is 5-of-29 for 15 percent. Grandal's defense has improved the past few weeks as he healed from right knee inflammation that troubled him during spring training. Meanwhile, no one is going to confuse Collins with Johnny Bench when it comes to the craft of major league catching.
Nevertheless, Mercedes never got an opportunity to display his skills, or lack thereof, behind the plate. For what it's worth, in his first two games back in Triple-A, he played in the field on Saturday and DHed on Sunday.
This all adds up to the reality that the number of strictly designated hitters today has shrunk tremendously, and Yermín Mercedes is never going to hit enough to become a member of this elite group. Barring injury, chances are slim that we'll see him back at The Grate anytime soon - or maybe never again.
Meanwhile, the Sox continue to hold a six-game lead in the American League Central. Their five-game win streak was broken on Saturday in Detroit, and the fellows dropped a 6-5 decision on Sunday, thus losing two-of-three to the Tigers.
This should not be shocking, especially since Grandal and Yoan Moncada both were idled by a sore calf and bruised hand, respectively. Much has been said about the weakness of the AL Central. However, the Tigers, since opening the season at 9-24, have been 29-22 since then compared to the Sox 32-21. Detroit also is 17-12 at home since May 7. Neither Dallas Keuchel nor Lucas Giolito pitched effectively over the weekend against a Tiger team that has some pop.
Now it's on to Minnesota and Baltimore before the All-Star break. Those two clubs are a combined 44 games under .500. The flight of the Yerminator now has ended, but we still are waiting to see how far his former team can soar.
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Posted on Oct 11, 2021