Steven Goldman of YES’ Pinstriped Bible blog has a new piece up skewering the idea that some fans have put forward, that Frankie Cervelli should start full time next year. While I agree Posada will (and should) get more time than Cervelli, I still take issue with parts of his arguments. He writes:
One key takeaway here is that (Cervelli’s) .273/.367/.380 in the Minors, primarily the low Minors, does not suggest the foundations of a Major League hitter. It suggests an out machine. It might suggest Jose Molina, and Molina, also a very talented catcher, isn’t good enough to play every day.
He might want to familiarize himself with Posada’s minor league numbers. He performed well at the lower levels, but stumbled as he rose through the ranks. His OPS went from .804 in the minors to .859 over his MLB career, so some players do grow over time and get better at the MLB level than they were in the minors. A good predictor of that is work ethic, and Cervelli is reported to have that in abundance, as did Jorge. Cervelli also simply hasn’t played much at the higher levels, playing only 58 games above High-A in the past two seasons. So drawing any conclusions on what type of hitter he is is premature, at best. We simply don’t know yet. He’s never shown Jorge’s power at any level, but I would keep an open mind, since power is often the last thing to come.
The Angels, for all of Mike Scioscia’s love of good defense at catcher (he being an excellent defender himself, and a brick wall when blocking the plate), kept him firmly behind Bengie Molina. The team to give Molina the most playing time, last year’s Yankees, was also the first Yankees team to miss the playoffs in 100 years. It was not a coincidence — despite the fact that Molina allowed only two passed balls, despite the fact that he caught 44 percent of basestealers. An offense can’t overcome that many outs, and a bad hitter makes more of them on offense than he can possibly save on defense.
Period. No debate. This is reality. It’s not a stathead thing. It’s not a calculator thing. It’s just very basic truth. A catcher might get 600 chances on offense a year. The number of great, run-saving plays that a strong defensive catcher will make over a mediocre one doesn’t add up to the extra outs. It can’t when we’re talking about plays that save perhaps a base a game, if that.
This is where his argument breaks down and he contradicts himself. The differential between a league average bat at Catcher (.717 OPS) and an outstanding bat like Jorge Posada (.859 Career OPS) is .142 points of OPS, or roughly a base and a half every 2 games. So even if we accept the notion that outstanding defense at Catcher saves a bit less than a base per game, the difference between an average offensive/great defensive Catcher and a great offensive/subpar defensive Catcher is roughly the same. So its a wash. Molina doesn’t give you a league average bat, that’s why he can’t play every day. Cervelli may hit enough to be average for the position, or he may not. But it’s much too soon to tell. He will need to maintain a league average bat to start in the bigs, we can agree on that.
His argument about the thought process that went into Scioscia’s decision is should be examined as well. Bengie Molina‘s offensive production with the Angels wasn’t outstanding, and was actually poor in his early years with the team. From 2000-2005, his OPS+ annually (in order) was 84, 73, 58, 96, 88, 108. Jose Molina joined the Angels in 2001, posting similar numbers from 01-04 in a backup role. He wasn’t starting Bengie over Jose because Bengie was an outstanding hitter. Jose has a stark platoon split. He’s never been able to hit Righties, wheras Bengie has a more balanced profile. That’s why one was a starter and one was a backup, given the fact that you always face more Righties than Lefties. Cervelli’s splits in limited action in the bigs are similar to Jose Molina’s, but I would hate to think were drawing conclusions on a player based on 57 ABs (roughly 11 games), especially the first 57 of someone’s career.
There’s also the effect of a good relationship between the pitching staff and a catcher to consider. Cervelli has received universal praise from his battery mates, whereas we all know the issues that have arose between Posada and various pitchers over the years. Anything that makes your pitchers more comfortable leads to better Run Prevention, which unfortunately is still a largely undiscovered frontier of statistical analysis. That’s slowly changing, but if pitchers perform better with Cervelli behind the plate, then that should be added to his overall value as a player. If pitchers perform worse with Posada behind the dish, it should be subtracted from his ledger. But looking only at one side of the ledger (offensive production) you don’t get a complete sense of what the players contributes every day, especially at a position which is involved in every play of the game.
I have no doubt that Cervelli will be our backup Catcher next year, and probably for many, many years to come. He will back up the aging Posada and hold the fort until Montero is ready (est ETA 2010). But I believe Cervelli will catch more than Goldman does, possibly as much as 50-60 games next year, which is a more prominent role than being a pure backup Catcher. If he proves he can’t hit Righties like Molina, then he will be destined to backup status for the remainder of his career. But it’s FAR too soon to tell.
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