Today I was a guest on the Jay’s Nest podcast from the boys over at JaysJournal. Naturally, I was there to discuss Russell Martin and what he meant to our hometown Pittsburgh Pirates and what he could mean to the Blue Jays. The very first question from the host was: “Who is going to take over the full time catcher’s role now that Martin is gone and what will the Pirates need for him to make them miss Martin Less?”
It is an easy question and then it is not. Before we delve into that answer, let’s all take just a quick moment to rehash old wounds and remind us how much of a career year Martin had in 2014. Slashing .290/.402/.430 against his career average of .259/.354/.399. is the definition of that term. Let’s get this out of the way right here and right now: Russell Martin’s offensive contributions can easily be replaced. When the conversation shifts towards defense and the intangibles, that’s when things get a little hairy.
Can we expect Cervelli to help us get every last bit of talent left in A.J. Burnett? Can we expect him to do his part to ensure that Liriano remains steady now that he has his payday? I think the answer is yes, but I expect it will take a learning curve at the beginning of the year
Recently, Baseball Prospectus revised their method of measuring pitch framing by catchers. The gory details are right here. Using a new method that allows them to measure all catchers from 1988 to now, Russell Martin came in third all-time in runs saved by this new metric with 185. Curiously enough, Russell’s single best season in this regard came in 2007, long before his time on the North Shore. Taking all of this into account, I just don’t see that the Pirates would be missing his pitch framing all that much, especially as the practice becomes more widespread. With that being said, throwing 28 runners out in 2014 was nothing to sneeze at, especially compared to the relative ineptitude of the likes of Tony Sanchez.
All of this is window-dressing to the central question: What does Francisco Cervelli have to do do make us miss Martin less?
One, he absolutely must stay healthy. We know the story: 42 games at C in 2014, 17 the year before. I believe that Clint Hurdle has a firm grasp on how to manage the day-to-day life of a catcher. Frequent off days in 2014 helped Martin immensely. Having a competent backup in Chris Stewart who just so happens to hit lefties very well means that Clint will not have to change his normal catcher routine very much if at all.
He must come closer to the league average in throwing out base runners. For his career, Cervelli throws out 22% of his baserunners who attempt to steal, as opposed to the league average of 27%. Martin has gunned down 32% for his career. Each and every time a runner gets a lead on the Pirates this year, the magnifying glass will be moved squarely onto Cervelli. With each runner that steals a base, fans will sigh heavily and remember #55. If Cervelli can manage to get a little closer to the league average at minimum, this will help fans put down their pitchforks and extinguish their fires.
More from Rum Bunter
- Pittsburgh Pirates Continue to Spend Embarrassingly
- Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential AL West Fit For Bryan Reynolds
- Pittsburgh Pirates Still Searching for Catcher Help
- Pittsburgh Pirates: Questioning the Vince Velasquez Signing
- Pittsburgh Pirates: Top Pitching Prospects Fans Could See Early in 2023
The pitching staff must not take a step back. Harder still to quantify was the effect that Martin had on the pitching staff beyond pitch framing. Widely credited with helping the maturation of Gerrit Cole and the resurrection of Francisco Liriano, Martin reaped high praise for the Pirates pitching staff’s steady ascent into the upper echelon of the game. Can we expect Cervelli to help us get every last bit of talent left in A.J. Burnett? Can we expect him to do his part to ensure that Liriano remains steady now that he has his payday? I think the answer is yes, but I expect it will take a learning curve at the beginning of the year. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Stewart come in in more high-leverage situations until Cervelli gets comfortable with this pitching staff.
There you have it. Please note that I purposely left off any mention of offensive production from Cervelli because I believe Russell’s offense is going to be made up from other sources. A bounce back year from Pedro Alvarez, competition-fueled production from Jordy Mercer and Jeong-ho Kang, and maturation of Gregory Polanco will all factor in to making up Martin’s offensive numbers.
It’s up to Cervelli to make fans forget about the rest.