Francisco Cervelli recently announced his retirement. Most of his career was spent with the Pittsburgh Pirates, so let’s go through his five-year tenure as a tribute to the veteran catcher.
Francisco Cervelli announced his retirement at the beginning of the month. For five years, he was behind the dish for the Pittsburgh Pirates. So with his retirement, I felt we should go back and look at his tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Cervelli served as one of the New York Yankees’ back up catchers for many years, but never got a shot at full playing time. He was always blocked by someone, whether that be Jorge Posada, Russell Martin, Chris Stewart or Brian McCann. During the 2014-2015 off season, the Yankees decided to part ways with Cervelli, trading him to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Justin Wilson in a straight up one-for-one trade.
Cervelli took the opportunity for regular playing time, and ran away with it.
Through 510 plate appearances, Cervelli batted .295/.370/.401 with a 117 wRC+ during the 2015 season. Cervelli had big shoes to fill defensively with the extremely talented Russell Martin leaving in free agency, but Cervelli didn’t have any trouble behind the plate. He racked up +10 DRS, and was second in the MLB in framing runs with +21.6. With a 5.9 fWAR, only Russell Martin’s 2014 season surpasses it, who had a 6.2 fWAR a year prior to Cervelli.
He was also quite a clutch batter. With runners in scoring position, he hit .269/.374/.414 with a 121 wRC+, and was even better in high leverage situations. In those kind of moments, he hit .365/.443/.577 with a 179 wRC+.
The following season, Cervelli earned himself an extension lasting through the 2019 season. He rewarded the Pittsburgh Pirates as he continued to be a solid offensive force with a .264/.377/.322 line and 98 wRC+ in 393 plate appearances. He didn’t hit for much power in 2016 with an isolated slugging percentage of just .058, but he showed a knack for getting on base. Among players with at least 350 plate appearances, Cervelli ranked 20th in on-base percentage among 232 other batters. He put his defensive prowess on display again with +9 DRS and +13 framing runs.
Cervelli posted his worst season with the Pirates’ in 2017, but there were still a few positives. In 304 plate appearances, the catcher hit for a .249/.342/.370 slash line. Again, Cervelli showed a decent ability to reach base as he walked 10.5% of the time. But defensively, the backstop struggled with -6 DRS and -6 framing runs.
In 2018, Cervelli would go on to offensive season with the Bucs. In 404 plate appearances, Cervelli batted for a strong .259/.378/.431 batting line and a 124 wRC+. It was the highest OBP and slugging percentage for the catcher in his entire career. He also blasted a dozen home runs, another career best. Cervelli’s fielding recovered to some degree as well as he cut his DRS total from 2017 in half to -3. Cervelli’s 39% caught stealing percentage was also another career high. However, his framing did take a hit still at -5.8 runs. Still this was an extremely strong season for the Pirates’ catcher.
2019 didn’t go as planned for the veteran backstop. He only appeared in 34 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates, as he missed a good chunk of his season because of concussion issues. For Cervelli, this was the third year in a row he would miss some time with a concussion and fourth time in total in his career, and it seemed like he might even be done with catching at one point.
Reasonably so because of the amount of head trauma he had taken. Realizing that his career was likely coming to an end, and wanting him to at least get the chance to make a run at a World Series, the Pirates released Cervelli from the extension they signed with him back in May 2016, paying him the few million remaining on his contract, and letting him sign with the NL East Division Champion Atlanta Braves. Cervelli was getting paid too much for another team to trade for him, so I understand them releasing him so he could latch on with a team in the hunt.
Cervelli did really well with the Braves, albeit in only 37 plate appearances collecting nine hits, seven going for extra bases, and drawing four walks, but his new team didn’t make it past the first round. Last off-season, the Miami Marlins signed the veteran to a one year deal, but he spent most of the year on the injured list because of another concussion.
To wrap it up, Francisco Cervelli in his Pirates’ career hit .264/.362/.374 with a 105 wRC+, +10 DRS, and 11.3 fWAR. Cervelli’s fWAR is the eighth highest among Pirates catchers of all time. He also came through in the clutch a handful of times. Not only was he well liked by fans, but the PIrates’ pitchers also enjoyed pitching to him.
Here at Rum Bunter ranked him as the 10th best player of the decade. We also wish Cervelli the best in retirement. Vita Bella!