Cervelli’s throwing stands out early in camp

2013 Season Preview: The Catchers
Nova working on new arm action in camp
(Star-Ledger)
(Star-Ledger)

The Yankees have a history of fake Spring Training competitions — the 2010 fifth starter’s competition stands out the most — though this spring’s catching competition both is and isn’t legit. Austin Romine has almost no chance of making the team because both Chris Stewart and Frankie Cervelli are out of options, so in that sense the competition is fraudulent. Neither Stewart nor Cervelli has a first grasp on the starting job though, and those two are in a real competition for playing time.

We don’t learn much after just ten Grapefruit League games, but one thing is very obvious so far this year: Cervelli’s throwing has been demonstrably better than it was from 2010-2011. He threw out 36.4% of attempted base-stealers as a minor leaguer from 2005-2008, then he threw out 43.5% of attempted base-stealers during his big league time in 2009. Something changed though, and that number dropped to just 14.1% in the show from 2010-2011. That defensive decline is a big reason why the Yankees traded for Stewart at the end of camp last year and surprisingly demoted Cervelli to Triple-A.

“It made my mind stronger,” said Cervelli to Mark Feinsand about the demotion. “I kept learning that nothing comes easy … Right now, I look at the past and I think it was the best. Maybe last year, the first two months in Triple-A was bad. The frustration, you don’t understand it in the moment, but when you have a little time and you think a little fresh, you realize things happen for a reason – and always a positive reason.”

Cervelli credited his parents — who spent a lot of time with him last summer — for helping him get over the disappointment of being demoted and focusing on the things the Yankees wanted to improve, including his throwing*. Frankie has thrown out five of six (!) attempted base-stealers during his five games behind the plate so far this spring. Obviously that is an unsustainable pace, but his throws have been strong and right on the bag at second as opposed to short-hopping the infielder or winding up in center field as they had in recent years. The improvement is noticeable.

“Rushing,” said Cervelli to Chad Jennings when asked what he was doing wrong before. “I tried to throw the ball too hard and I tried to get the ball before it was in my glove. Now I work relaxed behind the plate. Same energy, but I just try to be more relaxed and let my body go … The past few years in the big leagues, I had bad habits. Maybe frustration, or if you don’t play every day, you want to do things perfect. I was a little young, too. You’re a little desperate sometimes. When you get more mature and have more experience, play every day like last year, you start to get that feeling.”

Cervelli threw out 30.0% of attempted base-stealers with Triple-A last year — on par with his 2005-2008 performance — then went to winter ball and threw out nine of 14 attempted base-stealers (64.3%) in his 21 games. No one will ever confuse him with Yadier Molina, but Cervelli had a track record of throwing runners out at a better than average rate before falling to some bad habits (to use his words) in recent years. His performance these last ten months or so suggest he’s back to where he needs to be.

“I just think he worked hard at it,” said Girardi to Feinsand about Cervelli’s throwing. “He had a chance last year to catch every day. He also went to winter ball, and I think he worked really hard at it. As I said, I think he got a little out of whack from maybe rushing or trying to do too much, and he was able to go down there and really get it back together like he had when he first came up for us throwing the baseball. It’s shown up.”

Cervelli will turn 27 later this week, and among the team’s catching options, he has (by far) the best chance to contribute offensively this summer. That doesn’t mean he’ll be above-average or anything, just less below-average than Stewart or Romine. If his throwing and defensive improvements are real and not just a small sample/early-Spring Training fluke, his value to the team could be much greater than anticipated. We need to see more before we can say he’s over those bad habits for certain, but the early returns are very encouraging.

* Brian Cashman spoke more about the things the Yankees wanted Cervelli to improve during an on-air interview this weekend, which you can watch here. Apparently Frankie will no longer go into a Tony Pena-esque crouch as he had in the past. I thought that was interesting.

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2013 Season Preview: The Catchers
Nova working on new arm action in camp
  • Mike HC

    Nice write up. Good read.

  • Dalek Jeter

    Is there any chance that with his improved defense and not-black-hole-level offense that Cervelli could grade out as a league average catcher this season?

    • Jim Is Bored

      There’s always a chance!

  • EndlessJose

    I think sticking with Chris Stewart and Austin Romaine is perfect.If we bring Cervelli than the whole PED will be brought up mid-season and we have to hear from that again.He’s average at defense and cann’t hit.Why not bring up Romaine for that.

    • Havok9120

      I don’t accept several of your premises in the first place, but most of all Romine’s chances of developing into a big leaguer that can stick long term are best served by him spending the year playing every day down in Scranton. Getting into 2-3 games a week as a backup screws up even established players. Doing that to a kid with such a troubled development history is just asking for trouble, especially since we’d probably lose Cervelli to waivers as a result.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Lettuce consider that for a second. It might work when we play in Boston. Then again, this whole plan could hit an iceberg.

      • Manny’s BanWagon

        Nice effort but ultimately falls a little short of a LOL.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          Still better than someone still not knowing how to spell the guy’s damn name.

    • Andy in Sunny Daytona

      I think sticking with Chris Stewart and Austin Romaine is perfect

      I think you need to look up the definition of “perfect” in the dictionary

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Players actually working on their craft and improving? Perish the thought.

  • Manny’s BanWagon

    There’s a non zero chance Cervelli could actually end up as a league average catcher this year which is pretty much something you could never say about Chris Stewart.

    • Dalek Jeter

      This is why I believe that Cervelli should be the starter.

      • Manny’s BanWagon

        After Stewart stinks out the place for a few weeks, i think Cervelli likely will become the primary catcher.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          I’m not convinced Stewart’s in the lead at all.

          • Havok9120

            Nor I. Even in the internal discussions. Girardi’s been talking up Cervelli for almost the entire Spring and Cashman has sounded pretty high on him too.

            • Dalek Jeter

              R-Tils and I disagree on this fundemental point, but I think the Yankees are always more likely to go with older, more “proven” guys who they had on the roster or who have more ML experience than guys with lesser ML experience. For this reason I think that Stewart currently has the job, but it’s not like he has it set in stone.

              • Robinson Tilapia

                Oh, we agree. I just see a few exceptions here that I don’t think you do.

                I don’t think Stewart offers THAT much more veteran presents than Cervelli. He also can offer guidance to pitchers, and all that other BUC good stuff, from the bench, or when Frankie gets the day off.

                I also don’t really know how many veterans presents are underneath the Rivera and Dye-az trees.

                Other than that, sure, I think the team is more likely to maintain depth by playing the vet first.

              • Need Pitching & Hitting (but mostly hitting)

                fwiw, Cervelli has more MLB experience than Stewart (184 games, 562 PA, 1300.1 innings caught for Cervelli compared to 148 games, 394 PA, and 985 innings caught for Stewart).

                I think any edge Stewart has, if he does have one, would be because he’s been a considerably better defender than Cervelli, and he graded out much better than Cervelli in the Mike Fast pitch framing study (though it’s possible that study and the advanced defensive metrics don’t coincide with the Yankees internal numbers/observations). Pitch framing and C defense seem to be high priority for the Yankees these days.

                I’m just hoping Cervelli shows enough defensively for his better bat to earn him the majority of playing time over Stewart.

    • Ted Nelson

      Just depends what metrics you choose to use. I certainly believe Cdrvelli could beat out Stewart, but refusing to even question whether what you know are flawed metrics have improved is odd.

      • Ted Nelson

        Or more so can be improved. Whether we already have the knowledge to improve them.

  • Doug

    Why when talking about Cervelli’s poor defensive metrics during the 2010-2011 seasons is it always ignored that he was used almost exclusively as AJ Burnetts personal catcher? I feel like AJ being notoriously horrible at holding runners and consistently at the top of the leaderboard for wild pitches probably unfairly factored into the perception that Cervelli was poor defensively. But maybe thats just me…

    • Jim Is Bored

      I think given that he’s been basically guaranteed 50% playing time at this point, we’ll all find out if that was an accurate assessment of his defense or not.

      • Doug

        To quote the article:

        “He threw out 36.4% of attempted base-stealers as a minor leaguer from 2005-2008, then he threw out 43.5% of attempted base-stealers during his big league time in 2009. SOMETHING CHANGED THOUGH, AND THAT NUMBER DROPPED TO JUST 14.1% IN THE SHOW FROM 2010-2011.”

        Just saying…it seems pretty obvious that that “something” was AJ Burnett.

        • Manny’s BanWagon

          AJ was pretty much a blight on the organization so it’s not hard to believe some of his awfulness adversely affected Cervelli.

          • Doug

            I’d say so. He gets away from AJ and all of a sudden…

            “Cervelli threw out 30.0% of attempted base-stealers with Triple-A last year — on par with his 2005-2008 performance”

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

          Cervelli from 2010-2011

          Catching Burnett: 2-for-28 (7.1%)
          Catching everyone else: 13-for-64 (20.3%)

          He was awful no matter who he caught.

          • Doug

            True. But the disparity is obviously there, especially given how skewed the sample size is to starts catching with Burnett on the mound. From his own statements he was “rushing”, and understandably so. It seems in my mind he was prompted to rush given how god aweful AJ was at holding runners. Naturally then it would make sense that he would get into bad habits.

            Just saying i feel like the metrics fail to take this into account.

            • doug

              *** i actually misread your statement. given the number of pickoff attempts it appears he had more reps with other pitchers on the mound. I guess its just tough for me to shake the perception of him as AJ’s personal catcher. Thus naturally assuming he’d have more attempts with Burnett on the hump. I guess thats not the case.

  • TRR

    Need to keep Romine @ AAA for now.. as for Stewvelli, one hits a little better, one catches a little better, it’ll be a 2-headed monster for the first few months…

  • Paco Dooley

    I bet Frankie is happy he visited the clinic in Florida – he needs to thank to A-Rod for the tip – could be his ticket to a successful 2013

  • Dicka24

    I think Cervelli, if given a real chance, is going to surprise some people this year. I like the energy he plays with, and wish him the best.

  • Rigoleto

    Now the Yankees are going to have to sign Lohse to GM.

    • vicki

      giggle.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Another high-priced vet blocking Ronnie Mustellier.

      • Rigoleto

        I hear Jim Thome also brings veteran presence.

        • Havok9120

          *presents

    • Herby

      Tony Pena is going to step in for Cashman after the WBC and trade Stewart to the Nationals for Clippard.

  • BigLoving

    I am starting to think that Cashman had written off Martin after he turned down a contract extension and he was fully prepared to go with either Cervelli or Romine in 2013. The more I think about it the more I think Cervelli was in AAA getting everyday reps behind the plate in case Romine had any issues with his development.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Makes sense, but I’m not so sure. There was a dollar amount the team was willing to give early in the season and a value they were willing to give later.

      If Martin still thought he was worth equal to, or more than, what they offered in the first place, that was probably a line in the sand they weren’t going to cross.

      All I hope for is a smooth eventual bridge to Sanchez.

  • JRod

    I remember Cervelli was crushed when they sent him down last year, but he reacted to the experience the right way and used it to upgrade his game. I’ve always liked the way he hustles and plays with intensity. One of those intangibles that’s probably way overworked, I know, but I’m rooting for the guy. He’s just about to turn 27, has had a bunch of significant injuries to deal with in his brief career, a lifetime .271 BA in MLB, I think he can hit .280. If he keeps up his game defensively, that wouldn’t be bad at all.

  • IRememberCelerinoSanchez

    I kind of think the Cervelli v. Stewart competition is fake, too. The most games Stewart has ever caught in a MLB season is 67. Cervelli’s high is 93 (and that was in 2010). I just don’t see either of these guys catching 100+ MLB games in a season.

    I think what is going to happen is that they are going to essentially split the job. If they both stay healthy, I bet the final tally is within 20 games of being even (i.e., neither starts more than 90 games). I don’t think there will be one clear starter and one clear backup.

    Of course, if one or the other’s performance implodes, that could change (or Romine could just drop into the spot of the guy that flames out).

  • thevoiceofirrationalrationale

    Cervelli has better than average speed, and if his defense and throwing rebound, it wont take much for him offensively to be an average mlb catcher, or even slightly better. Extend him now while he’s dirt cheap ?