Francisco Cervelli, the exuberant, swarthy catcher who wowed Yankee fans with a surprisingly strong start to the 2013 season, has accepted a 50-game suspension from MLB for his part in the Biogenesis Kerfuffle. How good was early-season Cervelli, relative to the steaming pellets of rabbit poo that take the field on a nightly basis for the Yankees in 2013? Let me put it this way: Cervelli played in 17 games before suffering a hand injury on April 26...and as of August 5, his 0.8 bWAR still ranks fourth among all Yankee position players. Sadly, Cervelli's hot start will take it's place next to former teammate Melky Cabrera's 2012 season in the pantheon of "Surprising stretches of play forever tarnished by steroids."
I do believe, however, that the Yankees can take a lesson from Cervelli's lost season...and it's not the lesson you think. Going into spring training, the team faced a catcher competition between Cervelli and Chris Stewart. Neither choice was particularly inspiring - Cervelli had been demoted to AAA for nearly the entire 2012 season, and Stewart swings a baseball bat much in the same way a five-year-old swings a toy light saber. Most of the signs pointed to Stewart - a Girardi favorite - winning the job, but Cervelli wrested the position away from him with demonstrably superior play to start of the season.
Don't get me wrong - Stewart has a certain value to this team. His 0.9 defensive WAR ties him with Ichiro Suzuki for second on the team. He frames pitches the way Michelangelo paints ceilings. However, that defensive value has been totally negated recently by his pathetic performance in the batter's box. Since July 1, he is hitting .160/.240/.191, good for an OPS of .431. You can't pitch-frame your way out of that kind of offensive incompetence.
The Yankees should use Cervelli as a precedent - it is indeed possible for a young catcher to unseat Stewart with a stretch of inspired play. Since Cervelli played 17 games this season, let's check in on backup catcher Austin Romine's last 17 games, courtesy of Baseball Reference:
Austin Romine Batting Gamelogs for Career Games 33 to 49
|6/21 to 8/4||17||11||37||34||7||12||5||0||1||4||3||6||.353||.405||.588||.994|
Yeah...that's better. That isn't an impressive sample size, and Romine's BAbip is an unsustainable .407, but Romine has more doubles (and only one fewer total extra-base hits) in 37 plate appearances than Stewart has in 237 plate appearances this season. He is quite literally twice the offensive player Stewart is at the moment.
It's also important to remember that Romine was always considered a better prospect than Cervelli. Until injuries derailed his progress a few years ago, Romine was in line to become the Yankees starting catcher. And now here he is - healthy, and playing like a starting catcher. Perhaps it's time for the Yankees to let him attempt to fulfill his destiny.
If the Yankees were counting of the Cervelli of April to return and cure them of their offensive woes at the backstop, they probably should have given up those dreams long before today's suspension. It has been clear for a while that Cervelli isn't coming back this season. With the season slipping away, it is time to let the hotter player play, and Austin Romine is that player.
More from Pinstriped Bible:
- Biogenesis suspensions have been issued
- Biogenesis suspensions: Francisco Cervelli suspended 50 games, will not appeal
- Bud Selig's current steroid hardball does not excuse willful ignorance of '90s
- Alex Rodriguez: Distraction from what?
- Biogenesis Suspensions: Alex Rodriguez to appeal, others to accept 50-game suspensions