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To the Mats with Reader Comments: Francisco Cervelli is Evil

Jorge Posada: Still the man, blast it! (AP)

We tend not to judge backup catchers too harshly around here, since very few teams have one good backstop, let alone two. However, I have to draw the line at this from the comments on my post on Gardner vs. Crawford:

I laughed so hard when I saw the backup catcher bunt better than Gardner. And by the way the reason the Sox are willing to part with Martinez is because he stinks as a catcher ala Posada, they can only hit at this stage in their careers, so Cervelli is your man, I don’t want to hear nonsense about numbers because the only hitting catcher out there is Mauer and he’s a done deal. Just watch the games and see all those passed balls that they keep calling wild pitches! —Jesse

If your starting catcher is going to hit .253/.324/.313 (and falling; over the last three months Cervelli has hit .203/.274/.248 in 149 plate appearances) he’d better be the best defensive catcher in the league by at least 20,000 leagues. That is the only way the defensive benefits might come close to matching the devastating offensive blow received from playing a hitter with such limited ability with the bat. That has not been the case with Cervelli this year. The opposite has been more the case.

Cervelli has thrown out only 16 percent of opposing baserunners. We’ll let the jury remain hung on the passed balls/wild pitch issue, because Cervelli has been charged with only two of the former, and while he undoubtedly deserves some credit for the latter (the difference being largely at the whim of the official scorer), he has also become A.J. Burnett’s regular catcher, and that pairing is going to make the catcher look bad, just as catching Charlie Hough meant that ol’ Geno Petralli was going to have 20 or more passed balls every year. However forgiving we are of the missed balls in the dirt, we have to be just as hard on Cervelli’s throwing and overall error rate. Not only has he failed to catch many runners, but he’s often thrown the ball away when he’s tried to get them. Despite limited playing time, Cervelli ranks second in the AL in catcher’s errors with 10, seven of them coming on throws.

Catcher’s fielding percentages are artificially inflated by the putout they are credited with each time they catch a strikeout. Cervelli’s official percentage is .981, but when he’s actually doing something with the baseball other than receiving it, his fielding percentage is only .861. None of this is to compare Cervelli’s defensive game unfavorably to Jorge Posada’s. Posada has never been a great catcher and at his advanced age he’s not got much left to contribute on D. He’s thrown out about the same number of runners as Cervelli has, and his non-strikeout fielding percentage is actually lower at .841. Compare to Joe Mauer, the reigning AL Gold Glove catcher: he has caught 30 percent of runners and his non-strikeout fielding percentage is .949.

However, unlike Cervelli, Posada still provides solid returns at the plate. The average major-league catcher has hit .250/.320/.383 this year. Cervelli is going to fail to meet that not particularly high-set bar. The vet has hit .271/.383/.514 while wearing the tools of ignorance. Posada has been charged with seven passed balls this year. The Yankees have lost seven total bases to his lack of mobility. Horrors! With 12 home runs as a catcher, he has given the Yankees 48 total bases back right there. They’ve more than come out ahead on the exchange. As you know, Cervelli has all of 73 total bases for the season, with no home runs to date and none likely to come.

By the way: Mauer isn’t the "only hitting catcher" out there, just the best. Consider this list of catchers ranked by overall production, 200 PAs and over. There are 36 catchers that qualify. You will find Posada at #6, Cervelli at #28, and if you don’t think the Yankees would be better off with any of the guys above him taking a third of the catching time (or whatever fraction Posada is unable to use) next year, you haven’t been paying attention.