The real Francisco Cervelli

2011 Preseason Not Top 30 Prospects
The RAB Radio Show: February 10, 2011
(Nam Y. Huh/AP)

For the past year and change we’ve gotten to know Francisco Cervelli, but we haven’t seen him in his proper role. In each of the last two seasons he has been miscast out of necessity. This year figures to unfold a bit differently. The Yankees have enough options at catcher that they can finally reserve Cervelli for the role he is meant to play: backup catcher.

In 2009 the Yankees needed his services early in the season when both Jorge Posada and Jose Molina hit the DL at the same time. For a few weeks in May he took over as the starter, with Kevin Cash serving as his backup. He stayed with the team through June, and then came back up when rosters expanded in September. Last season he went into the season as Posada’s backup, but the latter’s health did not comply. He ended the season with 317 plate appearances, about a hundred too many.

Still, he was far from the worst backup catcher in the league. In fact, his offensive numbers suggest that he could start for a number of teams. Among catchers with at least 200 PA, Cervelli’s .315 wOBA ranked 18th. His .359 OBP ranked eighth. He doesn’t hit for a lick of power, but a backup need not do everything. If he did, he’d be a starter. And yet, even absent extra base hit potential — only Jason Kendall produced a lower ISO among catchers with more than 200 PA — Cervelli would represent an upgrade over many of the league’s 30 starting catchers.

Wouldn’t the Dodgers rather have him than an aging and mostly ineffective Rod Barajas? The Royals could use him in place of whomever they’re trotting out there this year. The Mariners signed Miguel Olivo, but I’m fairly certain they’d rather have Cervelli as they wait for Adam Moore to mature. The Pirates could use them while Tony Sanchez gets more time in the minors. Wouldn’t the Angels love to get him as an upgrade over Jeff Mathis? There are definitely teams out there with starters inferior to Cervelli.

Looking around the league, I don’t see many backups I’d rather have than Cervelli. David Ross is the only one who stands out. Other than that, maybe Ramon Castro, though he is basically Cervelli’s opposite: all power, no on-base. Otherwise, teams either employ a catching tandem, or they have a backup catcher I wouldn’t take over Cervelli.

Yes, Cervelli displayed some defensive issues this past season. But to my eye, it was more about boneheaded plays than a lack of skill. He was just 24 last season, and he has only 1,251 plate appearances in his professional career. There’s room to grow. In all likelihood he won’t grow into a viable starter for a first division team. But he can settle in as a backup and rank among the league’s best at his job.

Thankfully, he will almost certainly stay in the backup role all season. If Russell Martin doesn’t work out, Jesus Montero will be the first replacement. Jorge Posada is still around, too, and he insists that he’ll catch this season. Then there’s Austin Romine, whose name has come up plenty this winter. The Yankees have plenty of catching options in 2011, and Cervelli need not be a major part of their plans. Finally he can sit back, play once a week, and fulfill the role for which he is ideal. He is the 2011 backup catcher.

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2011 Preseason Not Top 30 Prospects
The RAB Radio Show: February 10, 2011
  • jay destro

    he sucks

    • crotch_jenkins

      F-Cerv: Bigger than Jesus.

    • The Tragically FIP

      Solid contribution.

  • http://twitter.com/j_yankees J_Yankees

    ::Insert Cervelli fist pump here::

  • Mike Salerno

    “Finally he can sit back, play once a week, and fulfill the role for which he is ideal. He is the 2011 backup catcher.”
    Also known as, “the best job in professional sports.”

    • Johnny O

      No way, that’s Bullpen Catcher. Or 3rd string QB.

      • http://twitter.com/Paddock9652 Stratman9652

        Bullpen catcher would be a pretty friggin awesome job. How cool would it be to get to hang out in the pen and pretty much play catch with a great like Mo every night and get payed for it?

        • Rick in Boston

          They don’t get paid much, though.

          • Johnny O

            Probably more than you and i

            • Rick in Boston

              I believe the average is about $30k, but with some cool perks – travelling with the team, per diem on the road, etc.

            • RL

              And you get to travel around the country, probably get a per diem food allowance … Would be a pretty good gig for a while, I think.

              • Rick in Boston

                Some guys are also strength & conditioning coaches, so they make a bit extra, but it’s not their primary job. I remember the Yanks released Dale Sveum one year and he spent the rest of the year as the team’s bullpen catcher.

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

    Wouldn’t the Dodgers rather have him than an aging and mostly ineffective Rod Barajas?

    Heh, apparently not since the Yankees offered Cervelli for Martin back in November. Dodgers said no and let Martin walk for zero return.

    Wouldn’t the Angels love to get him as an upgrade over Jeff Mathis?

    I think we know the answer to that question.

    • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

      AngeLOLs

      Also, Cervelli gets on base too much for the Dodgers.

    • vin

      I was thinking the same thing RE: the Dodgers. Who knows what’s running through Colletti’s mind?

    • Ed

      Heh, apparently not since the Yankees offered Cervelli for Martin back in November. Dodgers said no and let Martin walk for zero return.

      The stories I saw had the Yankees saying no because the Dodgers wouldn’t pitch in money.

      Martin made about $5m last year and would’ve gotten a raise in arbitration. He ended up signing for $4m. The difference becomes even more if they keep Martin next year, as he’ll go into arbitration with a $4m base instead of around $6m.

      • JAG

        I thought it was the Yankees who said no b/c of something on Martin’s physical…probably not accurate though since why would they sign him after the fact.

        • Ed

          The health concerns probably were a large factor in what they valued him at.

    • Stan the Man

      Actually the Dodgers wanted Cervelli since they were going to let Martin go. That is why the Yanks declined the trade since they could get Martin and not give up anyone. It is called adding depth. Cervelli and his .359 OBP would be an upgrade for many teams as the article stated.

  • http://www.facebook.com%e:mt_mop=2:1284065564|4:1270508852 Andy In Sunny Daytona

    Is that the photographers name or is that what Frankie is saying in the picture?

    • RL

      Gotta be Frankie’s comments. :-)

  • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

    Heh, it’s funny. In the beginning of 2010 when he had his hot streak and some people were like “he gives the team life! Play him over Posada!!!” I hated him. And then he got too many PAs and he was in a super cold streak and a lot of people acted like he had no use at all and I felt the need to defend him.

    Basically, this article is true, and very good. He’s a good backup catcher. Hopefully he gets to do just that in 2011.

    • bakekrukow412

      What I always reminded people who were calling for Cervelli to start over Jorge is that Cervelli wasn’t called up because he deserved it. It was done out of necessity. When he was called up, he was hitting barely about .200 in Double A. Any hot streak he had was purely chance, and he would revert to career norms eventually. I was right.

      • http://procrastinationperfected.tumblr.com/ BigDavey88

        “I was right”.

        *golf clap*

  • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

    In fact, his offensive numbers suggest that he could start for a number of teams. Among catchers with at least 200 PA, Cervelli’s .315 wOBA ranked 18th. His .359 OBP ranked eighth. He doesn’t hit for a lick of power, but a backup need not do everything. If he did, he’d be a starter. And yet, even absent extra base hit potential — only Jason Kendall produced a lower ISO among catchers with more than 200 PA — Cervelli would represent an upgrade over many of the league’s 30 starting catchers.

    Joe, buddy, I love ya, but I cannot agree with this.

    Cervelli’s season statistics in 2010 look passable but a closer inspection shows they may be inflated. After a BABIP-fueled April and May that we all remember for his insane 15-hoppers that somehow found outfield grass, he hit .203/.275/.248 before rebounding on the watered down pitching of September.

    This is obviously an atrocious line and the lack of power should stick out. To me, having a back up catcher capable of popping an occasional homer is more valuable than one who naerly-as-frequently draws a walk or gets a base hit. Maybe that’s just me.

    Not to mention that Cervelli’s defense was pretty poor. I believe it’s been brought up before that his CS% was worst in the league ahead of only Posada. Part of this falls on the pitchers, but Cervelli also has to take some blame. A good backup catcher has to do better on defense than he did, which was originally what started my holy crusade against him.

    All in all, though, I can live with him as long as I don’t see his stupid fist pump more than once a week.

    • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

      Yeah he had a crazy BABIP in April, May, and September, but he had a crazy bad BABIP in the other months. Like, .212. Maybe he’s just a really streaky guy. Hopefully we don’t really have to find out again because he doesn’t get a lot of playing time.

    • MattG

      I think calling two months “BABIP fueled” is mis-using the data. Were the subsequent months BABIP inhibited? Balls fall in, that’s the point of BABIP. Cervelli puts bat on ball, and for that reason, he should be expected to have a two month period during which he hits .350, and a two month period during which he hits .200.

      That works out to .275, and yes, .275 with some walks, acceptable defense, and not even arb eligible == one of the 30 best catching options available.

      Cervelli’s defensive stats were poor. His defensive skills are not poor. Catching all of AJ’s innings will not help any catcher’s numbers. More reps will yield better results.

    • Ted Nelson

      Besides the BABIP stuff pointed out by bex and Matt, his CS% was always very high in the minors (41%) and very high in 2009 (43%). Small sample so he might not be that insanely good, but probably also not as poor as 2010 indicates. That Jorge also had a career low in CS% says something about the Yankees pitching. It’s really tough to use CS% as an indictment of Cervelli when you look as his career total. Looking at one season and saying “he can’t throw anyone out” is about like looking at April and May 2010 and saying “he’s a silver slugger.”

      • Rick in Boston

        Outside of Pettitte, the Yankee pitchers are awful about holding guys on base. In fact, this seems to be an issue throughout the Yankees system.

      • Chris

        Exactly. It’s correct to say that he didn’t throw anyone out, but I don’t think that skill suddenly left him in just one year.

      • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

        I never said he couldn’t throw anyone out, just that he was at the bottom of the league in doing so. And I even admitted that part of that is on the pitchers. But to absolve him of all blame is equally silly.

        As for his averages, whether or not he’s actually a .315 wOBA player can only be determined from a larger sample size, so I hope we never find out.

        • Ted Nelson

          I wouldn’t absolve him, I would just say he’s quite likely to rebound and it’s not something I would necessarily criticize. Posada has a career 28% CS% including 28% in 2009 and was also at 15% last season.

          It will take a few years to find out, but I think we will find out. A solid back-up can bounce around a bit and get around 200 PAs a year. And that’s assuming he’s a back-up.

          A .315 wOBA would make him an average-ish starter. Only 17 C with at least 200 PAs topped that last season (20 in 2009), and among those VMart, Posada, Napoli, and Doumit aren’t necessarily Cs (maybe Thole too, but he did C only last season). So, he was about the 14th C in MLB according to wOBA at .315 when you remove those 4. Even if he’s really a .280 wOBA hitter he could have a nice run as a starting C. There is a nice crop of C prospects/youngsters coming up, so we’ll see if that crowds him out a little and raises the league’s C talent.

    • Stan the Man

      Why go into a further inspection for a guy who was playing because the overpaid agin catcher who was supposed to be starting was hurt the majority of the year? Cervelli is a back up who had to play and there really isn’t any more inspecting needed.

      Also when you take into consideration his CS% remember it was over 40% when he first came up and then he became Burnett’s caddy which means he won’t throw anyone out since Burnett is by far the easiest pitcher to steal off of.

  • Johnny O

    I wonder how Martin and AJ will get along? The personal catch BS has to stop. I would prefer Cervelli start less than 1 in 5, especially if Posada can go behind the dish every now and again.

    • Poopy Pants

      Bringing it up is a great way to make it stop.

    • Stan the Man

      The personal catcher stuff has been going for about 100 yrs + so it won’t stop anytime soon. Most teams are going to start their back up catcher 1 or 2 times a week and that usually will be with 1 pitcher. The back up has to play so it is what it is so stop complaining about it.

  • http://twitter.com/Paddock9652 Stratman9652

    *Waits for “He only sucked because he was AJ’s personal catcher”

    I’ve gottta agree with Joe, as a backup catcher I believe he’s more than capable. He was just in way over his head as a part time starter last year and his defense suffered. Not to mention, people are gonna hate him simply because he isn’t Montero.

  • Stilts

    Huh. I always thought Cervelli was older. He turns 25 in March.

    • holy potato bateman

      If i was a gril, i would sooo totally do fransisco servelli,

      • RL

        And Francisco Cervelli too. Then again, if I were a girl … Well, guys think differently than girls.

        • Thomas

          If I was a girl, I’d be very self-conscious about fact I have a penis.

          • king of fruitless hypotheticals

            GUYS…he said gril. as in, he would chop him into bits and serve him with a nice chianti.

    • Ed

      Yeah, he came up really young. He basically skipped most of the minors. He had about a month of AA experience before coming. His total minor league career – including the time after he first reached the majors – is only about one full season worth of playing time.

      • vin

        Don’t forget the year he missed because of the broken wrist. Stupid Elliot Johnson.

  • kosmo

    Cervelli being the backup catcher is not written in stone.The Yanks could very well trade Cervelli and go with Romine as the backup.

    • MattG

      They should trade Cervelli. There is a dearth of catching in the league, and Cervelli deserves 300+ at bats in 2011.

      They should not promote Romine to the major leagues. Romine needs to play. He completely tanked the second half last season. Playing twice a week is no way to maximize that asset.

    • pat

      They’re definitely not going to let a top prospect skip AAA to ride the pine as the backup catcher with the big league team.

    • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

      No point in stunting Romine’s development to have him play once a week. If the Yankees feel that Romine is a backup catcher in waiting, then they should trade him ASAP while he still has some value.

  • Regis

    He was kicking ass early last season and could do no wrong.
    Then it all went to pot.

    From the top of the mountain to the bottom of the toilet.

    • bakekrukow412

      After some of Cervelli’s ridiculous mental errors last year, I’m first in line to flush the toilet.

  • Dustin P

    Barajas can play defense and hit! Two weapons that are not in Cervelli’s game.

    • Ted Nelson

      Funny to see a Red Sox fan talking about catchers seeing as your team doesn’t have one…

      • Dustin P

        Neither does NYY.

        • radnom

          Don’t feed the trolls guys.

        • http://danielslifka.wordpress.com Jerome S.

          Posada
          Martin
          Cervelli
          Montero
          Romine
          Sanchez

          Better than Salty and Varitek.

    • Jobu The Voodoo Troll

      I think you are being a bit to literal with your statement that Barajas can hit. His wOBA in 2010 was .310 and Bill James, who in notoriously optimistic in his projections, projects him to wOBA .296 in 2011. So while Barajas can hit in the same sense that most humans, possibly yourself included, can literally hit a baseball with a baseball bat he does not do so well in the context of major league baseball players. More to the point of this article, he does not hit as well as Cervelli who wOBAed .315 last year.

      I am prepared to recognize an argument that Rod Barajas is not a good hitter, perhaps even a horrific offensive performer, but he is not much worse than Francisco Cervelli.

      • Dustin P

        I would want to have a catcher who is strong on defense. And Barajas’ is such a catcher. While he is no Mike Piazza, he does have pop and is nt an automatic out at the end of a lineup.

        Cervelli is horrible offensively, can not throw out baserunners and his antics behind the plate are atrocious.

        • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

          Not everyone can be the reanimated corpse of captain America or Jarrod “I can’t even throw it to the pitcher’s mound” Saltalamacchia.

        • Stan the Man

          Dustin P: we are all dumber for reading what your opinion is, Cervelli has a higher avg, obp and obs than Barajas so your wrong on all counts. He also has had a great defensive year when he first came up and took a step backwards last year but at 24 I believe it would be fair to say he would have a much better chance to get back to his defensive ability in 2009 than Barajas has a chance to improve now.

          Enjoy being a moron for the rest of the day.

  • steve s

    Nice reading some positive words about Cervelli than the usual negative stuff. Give him points as well for hustle, enthusiasm and what seems to be some genuine fondness towards him from his teammates (and could only imagine how much fun Rizzuto would have had with this real authentic paisan (albeit via South America).

  • Ted Nelson

    Good job putting things into perspective.

  • Monteroisdinero

    We have the wrong Francisco for 2011. Let’s trade ours plus Joba and minor leaguers of choice to Minnesota.

    • Jobu The Voodoo Troll

      Can that minor leaguer be C.J. Henry who would be resigned explicitly for this purpose?

  • bakekrukow412
  • CMP

    Cervelli is fine as backup catcher. He’s better defensively and throwing than he showed last year and he can run a little for a catcher. He kind of reminds me of Girardi as a catcher. The only thing I don’t like is he needs to tone things down a bit as he sometimes comes off as too much of a hotdog. For a backup player who’s not overly skilled, that’s not really a good thing.

    • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

      He kind of reminds me of Girardi as a catcher.

      This isn’t much of a compliment. Girardi was a rather shitty offensive catcher.

      • CMP

        Yeah but I’ll never forget the image of him rounding 2nd base in game 6 of the 1996 World Series when he hit that triple off Greg Maddux. He looked like he would have ran through a brick wall to get to 3rd base.

        • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

          Well, of course. Being “shitty” by MLB standards still means he’s an elite world-class athlete capable of doing things like that. Baseball history is littered with ordinary players doing extraordinary things, but it doesn’t make them better players :P

      • Chris

        I think you’re spoiled by watching Posada. There’s a reason that he’s a borderline HOFer. You don’t need to hit that well to be a quality catcher.

        • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

          Girardi was a career .267/.315/.350 hitter who never once had an OPS+ above 87, while frequently playing 80-110 games a season. I stand by my statement that he was a pretty shitty offensive player, even for a catcher.

          • Chris

            In 2010 the average catcher in MLB hit .249/.319/.381 with a 93 OPS+. So Girardi wasn’t a good offensive catcher, he was a slightly below average offensive catcher.

            You’re comparing Girardi (as a catcher) to the average player. You need to instead compare him to other catchers.

            • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

              So not only does his career averages come out below normal, even if I cherry pick his best year, he’s still below the “average” MLB catcher threshold.

              I think my point is that if you want to use Girardi as a baseline then I can see how Cervelli might not seem that bad, because they’re equally inept offensively. Frankly, on the Yankees, we should expect better.

              • king of fruitless hypotheticals

                Ross is right. Cashman should have signed Lee and then signed a better catcher to be the backup. The Yank’s greatest strength is their bank, and CA$HMAN refuses to use it to get a decent backup catcher.

                This is ridiculous!

              • Chris

                Below average does not mean shitty. There were 13 teams last year that got above average production from the catcher position. Does that mean that the other 19 teams all have shitty offensive catchers?

      • Stan the Man

        He was pretty darn good defensively though and that is really all the Yanks need behind the dish this year since their offense is covered at every other position.

  • http://danielslifka.wordpress.com Jerome S.

    Good read; maybe he’ll spend 2011 in a number 3 role, with Martin, then later Montero, then Cervelli.

  • Yankeescribe

    He’s only 25 yet some people talk about him like he’s Jose Molina. Others seem to dislike the guy only because he’s not Jesus Montero. I appreciate Cerv’s contributions and hope he continues to improve as a player.

    I may be wrong but wasn’t 2010 Cervelli’s first 300 PA season? Catching is a very physically demanding position. It takes time for them to build up the stamina to post solid offensive numbers consistently.

    I think Cerv has the potential to improve and maybe start but the Yanks have several catching prospects with higher ceilings. I’d say there’s a high probability that the Yanks trade him at some point this season.