The Pittsburgh Pirates had a disappointing 2016 season. As the off-season begins, it is time to grade out the club. Today we look at the injury-plagued season of Francisco Cervelli.
Francisco Cervelli is supposed to be a part of the future of the the Pittsburgh Pirates. The organization showed that they believed in him when they signed him to a three-year, $31 million extension before the beginning of this past season. Cervelli is always a productive player whenever he’s on the field, but his injury history is well known. Unfortunately, despite a healthy 2015 season, the injury problems returned for Cervelli in 2016. He did manage to produce a 1.7 WAR (according to Fangraphs), however, despite these injury issues, the second-best season by WAR of his career behind 2015. He still hit for average and took his fair share of walks, and his prowess at pitch framing continued to make him an overall above-average catcher last season. But his injury problems continue to be a major concern moving forward, despite his play when he’s on the field.
Let’s take a look back at Cervelli’s 2016 campaign.
Cervelli endured injury issues yet again this past season. He did manage to play in 101 games, the second-highest total of his career behind the 130 he played in 2015. But when those are the two highest totals of your career, that’s not good. For a guy that’s going to be making about $10.3 million per season starting next year, that game total isn’t going to cut it. Cervelli needs to find a way to get to at least two wins above replacement making that kind of money, a total he’s only eclipsed once in his career. Clearly the Pirates paid him based on his 2015 season. If he stays healthy and performs like he did that year, then he will be worth the money he’s making.
Fortunately Cervelli’s injury isn’t a long-term injury, and while he missed a lot of time, he was back in action after the All-Star break. So Cervelli still figures to be an important piece of this team if the Pirates plan on competing in 2017. But with Chris Stewart and Elias Diaz‘s injury issues last season as well, Cervelli’s health is even more important. Hopefully we get to see more of Cervelli next year.
Loss of Power
Catchers typically don’t display much power. In this day, offense is seen as more of a bonus with the catching position, as defense and pitch framing become more and more valued. But Francisco Cervelli has always been productive offensively when he’s been on the field. He displayed that in 2015 when he set career highs in RBIs (43) and home runs (seven). But his numbers dipped this past season, especially in the power department, as he only knocked one ball out of the park. Cervelli has never been much of a home run hitter, as he only has 18 career home runs. But many thought that he was trending up after the seven he hit in 2015. Maybe if he stayed healthy he would be able to hit more home runs?
But that didn’t happen. His hand issues could have impacted that, and a drop in power wouldn’t normally be that concerning for a catcher. But his overall offensive numbers dropped as well, and some other players lost some power as well. Hopefully his hand injury was the biggest reason why his power numbers dropped. If not, then Cervelli needs to improve the rest of his offense to justify this drop in power.
What Cervelli lacked in power and offensive production, he continued to make up for in other ways. According to StatCorner, Cervelli was the sixth-bets pitch framer in the game (measured by runs above average); he finished 9.9 runs above average. While this is still good, relatively-speaking, compared to the rest of the catchers in the game, it’s a far cry from his 2015 season, when he was the best pitch framer in the game at 26.7 runs above average. Obviously Cervelli’s injury played a part in this. But if Cervelli isn’t a fantastic pitch framer, and is just above-average, he needs to get better offensively or in other areas. A down-tick in offense is acceptable if his pitch framing is superb. But it’s not at the moment. I don’t think pitch framing is a skill you lose with age, however, so I think he’ll return to form in that regard next season.
Conclusion and Final Grade
By the sound of my writing, you’d think Francisco Cervelli had a disappointing 2016 season. But he wasn’t terrible. He was still an above-average catcher. But he needs to be on the field more or else what he can do doesn’t matter. Taking his injury history into account, and his slight in offensive production and pitch framing from 2015, I’d grade Francisco Cervelli as a B- for 2016. Luckily for Pirates fans, we’ve seen his upside before. Now he needs to return to that form in 2017.
What grade would you give Francisco Cervelli?
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— Pirates Breakdown (@pbcbreakdown) November 7, 2016
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