Francisco Cervelli's Contribution to the Yankees: How Great Can It Be?

Perry ArnoldSenior Analyst IJanuary 21, 2010

During the 2009 baseball season, Jorge Posada and Jose Molina went on the disabled list within about a week of each other and the Yankees were out of catchers.

At that time, the only other catcher on the Yankees 40-man roster was Francisco Cervelli. He was toiling at Double-A Trenton and hitting less than .200.

Most close observers of the Yankees were fairly certain at the time, that the Yankees chances for success were doomed.

But Cervelli came to the big club and immediately made an impression.

The young Venezuelan showed maturity beyond his years. On a team with future Hall of Famers such as Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriquez, Mark Teixeira, Mariano Rivera and CC Sabathia, the kid could have been overwhelmed.

Instead, he took charge and added some fire to the team when they needed it most.

Cervelli was also confronted with a pitching staff that included veterans Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte. How was this kid going to handle these established vets?

Well, he almost immediately gained the confidence of his pitchers and showed that he was in charge behind the plate. And the pitchers quickly showed that they loved pitching to him. They had confidence in the game he called and soon learned that he was going to help them win.

Cervelli is very quick behind the plate and has a good arm. In his 40 games behind the dish in '09, he threw out 42 percent of the runners who tried to steal. By contrast, old regular Jorge Posada, threw out 28 percent.

And Cervelli hit a little too. In 99 at bats, he hit .283 with an OPS of .648. He made contact. Based on a 162 game average, Cervelli would only strike out 50 times.

No one is going to confuse this kid with Mike Piazza at the plate; however, nothing was expected of him and he went far beyond the expectations when he gave some production.

Cervelli will replace Jose Molina as the backup for Posada in the 2010 season. And he will be backing up a catcher who will turn 39 this season.

It will be unrealistic to expect Posada to catch more than 110 games. This means Cervelli will appear in about one-third of the Yankees contests this year.

He will be better than Posada on defense and it is clear the pitchers would rather pitch to him than Posada.

At times last year, Posada was surly with his staff. He could not get along with some of them and by the playoffs, AJ Burnett did not want to throw to Posada at all.

This was not new. Mike Mussina didn't want to pitch to Posada and neither did Randy Johnson in his time with New York.

So there will be no problems on defense with Cervelli. He will improve the team there when he plays.

But offense will be different this year.

In 2009, the Yanks were getting very good production out of Johnny Damon in the two hole behind Jeter.  And Hideki Matsui—despite hobbling on two bad knees—was very productive as the DH.

And center fielder Melky Cabrera, once he won the job back from Brett Gardner, rebounded to have a very respectable offensive year and improved his power numbers more than expected. And Melky, as a switch hitter, gave the Yankees more flexibility.

So not much was needed from Cervelli.

But in 2010, Damon, Matsui, and Cabrera are all gone.

Nick Johnson has been signed as the DH and he will probably hit behind Jeter in Damon's old spot.

Brett Gardner will start again in either center or in left. Gardner has great speed, but his ability to get on base is uncertain and he has yet to prove that he can hit major league pitching on a full time basis.

Gardner is especially weak against left-handed pitching and was held out of many games last year when a lefty started against the Bombers.

Curtis Granderson came to the Yankees in a big offseason trade. This has been much ballyhooed as Granderson hit .249 last year and struck out 141 times. He may be worse against lefties than Gardner: his 2009 average against left-handed pitching was .181.

And one cannot ignore the fact that Jorge Posada is older—as is Derek Jeter.

Jeter had one of his best years ever at age 35 in 2009. If he stays injury free in 2010 he will produce again, but expect Jeter to hit above .340 again and have over 200 hits,  slightly unrealistic.

Posada was very good with the stick again in '09 but he has had more than his share of injuries and as he gets older, it will be harder and harder for him to shake off the pains.

Sitting Posada or using him to DH 50-60 games will help him stay injury free.  And the team will really need him to DH when he is not catching because they need his bat.

So the Yankees will need more offense from reserve catching than they did last year because they are much weaker offensively than last year.

If Cervelli hits .270 and keeps his strikeouts low, the Yankees can probably live with him all year.

But he will be in a much weaker lineup with Gardner, Granderson and Swisher as the outfield lumber.

The Yankees will not be able to cover for a weak bat in their reserve catcher.

So if Cervelli is playing one game out of every three and is hitting .230 in June, look for the Yankees to begin to shop actively for a catcher with more punch.



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