On November 12th, 2014 you may have been received an alert on your phone that read something like this: BREAKING: Pittsburgh Pirates acquire Catcher Francisco Cervelli from Yankees for Pitcher Justin Wilson. And, like myself, you probably unlocked your phone, went straight to google or twitter and simply searched “Francisco Cervelli Stats” to see what you could muster up on the man. If you did, you probably came across his .301 batting average, two home runs, and 13 RBI in just 49 games behind the dish for the New York Yankees. ”Here we go again” probably crossed your mind several times.
What seemed to be a similar theme in the Pirates organization during the 20-year sub .500 drought was becoming a reality again, just shortly after Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants tore through October; Russell Martin, arguably the most influential player on that team, was being let go. Pirates’ fans were all too familiar with this as we suffered through the loss of Jose Bautista, Aramis Ramirez, Barry Bonds, Jack Wilson, Tim Wakefield, etc. and received very little production.
After Cervelli was signed and Martin left, Pirates fans around the world were skeptical, including myself. We kept telling ourselves that he will be a backup to replace Chris Stewart, Russell will be resigned and life will move-on; but we were wrong. It’s rare you find a baseball player with as much passion for the game, and as much drive to win, as Russell Martin did; but somehow, some way, the Pirates got it done.
A back-up catcher, who had a little name in a big city, was about to have a life-changing season just south of the New York border.
Cervelli suited up for 130 games in 2015 for the Pirates, which is no easy task for any catcher, let alone a 7-going-on-8-year veteran. That 2015 team, who posted 98 wins – the third most in team history, and most since 1991’s 98-win season – would not have been possible without the day-one leadership Cervelli provided behind the plate. The catcher on a baseball field is the equivalent to the quarterback on a football field; he or she calls the plays, directs everything, makes sure everything is aligned, and can see everything in front of him or her. To be a successful catcher one needs to be passionate about the game of baseball, and demonstrate leadership abilities that a skipper would admire; Cervelli brings just that and matched, if not topped, Martin’s passion.
He loves the game of baseball, and Pittsburgh loves him. In comparison, Russell Martin had a better statistical season in 2015, but no one delivered in the clutch more consistently than Francisco Cervelli. No one else was behind the plate more during the 35-inning scoreless inning streak, and no one was there more to comfort young Gerrit Cole’s fervent emotions.
Cervelli almost tripled his games played (49-130), tripled his at-bats (146-510), tripled his runs scored (18-56), tripled his hits (44-133), and hit 5 more home runs (2-7) from 2014 to 2015 while keeping a batting average of .295. With a Pirates team who is as big of a threat from batting lineup 1 through 8, and sometimes 9, it’s not about how often you hit, it’s about when you hit, and no one provided that breakthrough every fan was waiting for more than the Italian Stallion.
It’s really something remarkable to watch, but until you’ve seen the way Cervelli runs the bases in person it’s almost impossible to understand. He runs with a purpose, almost like he thinks he can leg out a little-league home run on a week dribbler to the outfield, or even a bunt.
2015 was a success for Cervelli to win over the Pirates’ fan base and teammates as a whole, which translated to a successful season which could have thrived in any other division in baseball except the NL Central; but that’s how it goes.
So what’s in store for Francisco Cervelli? 2015 proved to be a breakout season, and I don’t see him slowing down anytime soon. It’s time to take the next step with this organization, past the wild card games, past the uncertainty and inconsistency, and I have no doubt he, along with Andrew McCutchen, can lead them to it.
The faith Pittsburgh has put into this guy after just one year? That’s amore.