The Yankees catching situation in 2010 has created a partnership that is unique in franchise history. After Posada and Cervelli each catch one more game, they will become the Yankees only catching tandem to compile over 300 plate appearances each (not including at bats taken at other positions). The only pair that even came close to so evenly splitting duties behind the plate was Yogi Berra and Elston Howard, who in 1958 batted 369 and 278 times, respectively, while donning the tools of ignorance.
A lot of angst has been expressed over Cervelli’s role on the team, but much of it has been dismissed as typical Yankee fan paranoia over a position (backup catcher) that most teams do not give a second thought. On the surface, there is at least some truth to that observation, but when you consider the extent to which Cervelli has played, his OPS+ of 79 become less palatable.
Yankees’ Catchers 2010 Performance
Since the end of the dead ball era (generally believed to be around 1920), the Yankees have had only 79 players post an OPS+ below 80 in more than 300 plate appearances, including just five players since the start of the recent championship era in 1996. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the five players happens to be Cervelli’s current manager. In 1997, Joe Girardi posted an OPS+ of 69 in 433 plate appearances, so you can easily see why he has an affinity for light hitting catchers.
Yankees With More than 300 PA and an OPS+ Lower than 80, Since 1990
It should be noted that Cervelli’s OBP of .346 is not only pretty good, but well above the league average of .328. However, some of that value is mitigated by his paltry slugging percentage of .320, which ranks eighth worst in the American League among batters with at least as many as 300 plate appearances. As a result, Cervelli’s wOBA is only .304, compared to Posada’s rate of .373, which is good for fourth best in baseball using the same parameters.
The main reason for Cervelli’s miniscule slugging percentage is his inability to hit homeruns. Although Cervelli does have one long ball on his major league resume (a rather significant one that is often credited with turning the Yankees season around last year in Atlanta), he has been completely shutout this season. If Cervelli does not belt one out of the park before the end of the season, he would become only the 13th Yankee since the end of the dead ball era to go homerless in over 300 plate appearances, and only the third since 1971.
Yankees With No Homeruns and More than 300 PA
Because he hasn’t played strong defense, Cervelli’s weak bat has made him a constant scapegoat during the season, which in spite of the facts presented above, still seems a little unfair considering the enormous talent in the Yankees lineup. Still, a team like the Yankees is not judged by the same standards as others. In 2010, the extended playing time of Cervelli has resulted in the team being exposed from time to time. That might not be a major concern in the regular season, but in the post season, the Yankees could pay a price if they are forced to rely on what should be their backup catcher. In other words, there can be no catching partnership in October. Because of Jose Molina’s defense, such a situation worked out fine last year, but if the Yankees are going to repeat, they will not only need Posada’s bat in the lineup, but behind the plate as well.