Francisco Cervelli has long been the whipping boy for Yankee fans. It’s not really his fault: he’s a backup catcher, and good hitting backup catchers are hard to come by unless you’re the Cincinnati Reds, so perhaps the biggest problem with Cervelli is that he’s gotten so much playing time this season. Cervelli’s year has been quite the rollercoaster, a study in how shifts in BABIP can affect the results. By playing a little arbitrary start and endpoint game, we can see how his season has been divided into very good and very bad.
Start of season to May 31st: 120 PAs, .320/.388/.400, 0.364 BABIP
June 1st to August 27: 145 PAs, .178/.254/.217, 0.215 BABIP
August 29 to present: 47 PAs, .441/.587/.529, 0.517 BABIP
The simplest and easiest answer here to explain his recent surge is to assume that he’s just getting more good fortune on balls in play like he did when the season started. In all probability, this is the best explanation. But in this morning’s comments leftylarry suggested that Cervelli had made some changes to his batting stance:
“Anybody else notice that Cervelli is no longer leaning his head forward with his back (right ) shoulder up to high?
LONG finally figured it out and lately he’s hitting the ball again PRETTY well. He won’t get HIT in the head now anymore either as he can see the ball earlier and pick up the rotation and velocity better.”
I’m always interested in alternative explanations, so we’ll examine his batting stance over the past few months after the jump.
Here is Francisco Cervelli on June 11, 2010 against Houston in Yankee Stadium, sporting a low crouch:
On June 20th, his stance looks largely the same:
It’s the same on July 5th, 2010 in Oakland:
Here he is a month later, on August 10, 2010 (yes, it’s sad that there are no offensive highlight clips available on MLB.com for Cervelli between July 5th and August 10th):
If there’s a difference between the first three photos and this one, it’s hard to say. It’s possible that his left elbow is an inch or two lower. Here’s Cervelli on August 29, 2010. He had four hits in this game:
Really, up to this point everything looks largely the same. Here’s Cervelli in Texas on September 10:
It could be me, but it looks like Cervelli is standing taller in the box. Here he is on September 25 in New York:
Finally, here is Cervelli last night in Toronto:
In July and August, Cervelli’s stance was a low squat like Albert Pujols. This was also the only thing Cervelli has ever shared in common with Albert Pujols. In the more recent clips though he seems to be standing a little taller, almost like Derek Jeter. I created a gif to make the juxtaposition easier to see:
Unlike the commenter, I can’t pick up any difference in his right (rear) shoulder in any of these images. To me, it looks more like Cervelli is standing a bit taller in the box. He’s not bent at the waist as much and has brought his rear end in a bit. It’s possible that the slight difference is enabling him to see the ball better and attack it more quickly. It’s also possible that this is just another example of random variation in BABIP. Even if it’s a combination of both, an improved approach and better luck, expectations should still be kept low. There’s nothing in Cervelli’s minor league track record to suggest that he has the bat to be an average major league catcher. If he’s used properly, as a true backup and not an almost-regular, and if he’s used especially against left-handed pitchers, then he can be a serviceable backup and useful bench piece. And if standing taller in the box helps him see the ball a bit better, then that’s just the icing on the cake.
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