The Importance of Frankie Cervelli


(REUTERS/Joe Giza)

Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. That was the focus of the offseason, and it still is today given the continued A.J. Burnett trade talks. We haven’t paid too much attention to the other end of the battery though, mostly because the Yankees have some upper level catching depth and an above average big league backstop ready to handle the bulk of the workload in Russell Martin. The Jesus Montero trade took away some of that depth, but Austin Romine is still around as if Frankie Cervelli, the forgotten backstop.

Cervelli, who turns 26 next month, isn’t a terrible backup catcher even though we all seem to collectively loathe him. He’s got 560 big league plate appearances to his credit (roughly a full season), and he’s consistently put the ball in play with solid walk (7.9%) and strikeout (15.1%) rates. His .272 batting average and .316 BABIP are reasonable for a player with his batted ball profile, meaning few fly balls but lots of grounders and line drives. Of course the lack of fly balls means Frankie has next to no power (.082 ISO), but he did go on a rampage before getting hurt last September — three homers in five games across ten days, including at least one more ball knocked down by rain and wind in that ridiculous 11:30pm ET start against the Orioles. Offensively, a .272/.338/.354 line is pretty good compared to most backup catchers. With any luck, that power surge is something more than a fluke, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Despite a strong reputation, Frankie hasn’t been anything special on defense. He’s thrown out just 23 of 116 attempted basestealers in his career (19.8%), though it’s worth noting that runners are 26-for-29 against him when Burnett and his notoriously slow delivery is on the mound. Remove A.J. from the equation, and Cervelli’s been a more palatable 20-for-87 (23.0%) when it comes to throwing out runners. There aren’t any great (or even good) metrics for catcher defense, but I think we can all agree that Frankie isn’t the best receiver back there just from watching him over the last three seasons. He’s not the defensive-first backstop I’m sure Joe Girardi would like to have, but the total package is a viable big league backup catcher.

Cervelli has had some injury problems in the recent past, some fluky (Elliot Johnson breaking his wrist, a foul ball breaking his foot) and some not so fluky (four reported concussions in the last seven seasons). The last concussion came in September, when Nick Markakis bowled him over on a play at the plate. The Yankees take concussions very seriously (as they should), so the injury ended Frankie’s season and forced Romine to the big leagues. With Montero in Seattle, the Yankees need Cervelli to stay on the field this season to make sure Romine gets the couple hundred Triple-A at-bats he needs developmentally. Health is a skill but only to a certain extent, so there’s not much more anyone can do besides cross their fingers and hope he stays on the field.

Anecdotally, Martin seemed to play (or at least hit) better when getting regular rest last season, which is another factor to consider. A healthy and productive Cervelli allows the club to take it easy on their starting catcher during the hot summer months, theoretically keeping him fresher for a potential playoff drive. With all due respect to Gus Molina, Frankie is the guy you want filling in on Martin’s off days so that Romine can keep doing his thing in Triple-A. The backup catcher won’t sink the season no matter who it is, but having a healthy and reasonably productive Cervelli will have a positive impact on Romine, Martin, and the team’s overall chances.

Categories : Bench


  1. The Oberamtmann says:

    Martin definitely hit better when getting a lot of rest. I’m not sure why Girardi, who loves him some Cervelli, continued to pay Martin nonstop after he fell into a slump. He’s obviously not a Posada-type, play-me-every-day-of-the-season catcher, which is fine. Keep him fresh and productive!

    How does Cervelli compare to *starting* catchers? I ask because I think, given the weakness of the position, he’s not just a fine backup, he’s an exceptional backup and would be no worse than a slightly below average starter.

    • Soriano Is A Liar says:

      He had a .324 wOBA in 2011 (.338 career). While it would probably fall a bit in full time duty, .324 would have been 15th in 2011 out of catchers with over 200 PA’s. So its certainly possibly he could be a viable starter on a lower division team.

    • Soriano Is A Liar says:

      If he could keep up a .315 wOBA in everyday player, that would put him in line with 2011 Saltalamachia, Soto, and Piersinski. None of them are great players, but they’re all viable starters on the right team.

  2. Chad Gaudin the Friendly Ghost says:

    I really started paying attention to this blog sometime last year, probably around the trading deadline, and was surprised to see all the dislike of Cervelli. He’s not terrific, but he seems to be a servicable backup.

    It’s not like watching Sal Fasano back there or anything.

  3. Robinson Tilapia says:

    I wonder if people suddenly become more tolerable of Cervelli now that there’s not Jesus Montero sitting in AAA.

    Homegrown backup catcher who doesn’t embarrass himself anywhere. What’s not to like.

  4. Save a 'Stache says:

    He’s fine for what he is – a placeholder for someone better.

    The real problem is Martin. He shouldn’t be playing any more than 100 games given how brittle and ineffective he’s been when playing more.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      I’m not really sure where you’re coming from calling Martin brittle.

      Since 2007 he’s been the 3rd most effective C according to fWAR… and that metric probably drastically underrates his receiving abilities. http://www.fangraphs.com/leade.....;players=0

      Over that same span he’s played the second most at C after only Brian McCann. http://www.fangraphs.com/leade.....8;sort=2,d

      Similar story since 2006.

      • Save a 'Stache says:

        His splits. He does very well in limited playing time. He does much worse the more he gets. We saw that all too clearly last year. He was below replacement level for half the season.

        • Ted Nelson says:

          His best seasons were those where he played over 150 games… which is why I don’t understand where you’re coming from. You’re looking at one season. It’s possible that ridiculous work load early in his career permanently damaged his body and now he’s “brittle.” However, one season is not a sample size you can make these determinations on.

          • Now Batting says:

            One season? The last 3 years have seen Martins health and productivity decrease. Even with a 2011 rebound season he was way below where he was when he played 150 games…at the age of 25…four years ago.

  5. Is Romine really doing much better in the minors? I’m not sure he’s much better than Frankie.

  6. mike_h says:

    Enter Gustavo Molina if Cervelli gets hurt, can’t see how they would bring up Romine unless its Sept. Romine might be the backup in 2013 and ease him in to the starter role depending on if we extend Martin’s contract

  7. Nick says:

    I think CS doesn’t really tell the whole story of how horrible Frankie is on defense. He constantly airmails throws, misses balls, misses catches, you name it. He’s godawful and deserves every bit of hate he gets.

    I’d rather ship him out and keep Burnett.

  8. Nothing against the guys and lady at RAB, but Cervelli posts only remind me we’re still several weeks away from Opening Day and anything important. For all his shortcomings, I actually do appreciate his energy in a Ronny Turiaf kind of way.

  9. Plank says:

    That picture is great. He looks like he’s at a revival.

  10. Johnny says:

    I’ve never had any problem with Cervelli. To what end? He never did anything to anybody. In fact, I only really have good memories, like when he hit that grand slam in Arlington on Mother’s Day. (I think it was a grand slam if I’m remembering correctly.)

    • jayd808 says:

      Hey Mambo, mambo italiano. I remember that Mother’s Day game, a fine Italian boy that Franco. Shame on you who look down on the wonnerful job he doin’. And that Sal Fasano, that was a helluva catcher too. Hey Mambo, mambo italiano…

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