We can all agree that fan voting has been flawed for a long time. It’s led to some stupid choices in a variety of entertainment media and baseball is no exception. Remember when Alcides Escobar won the starting SS spot in the 2016 All Star (thanks a lot Google Fiber)? He’s only an All Star when Kansas City is collectively drunk on a World Series win.
In an attempt to curb the homers who vote for the Alcides Escobar’s of the world a hundred times, Armchair All-Americans are starting a new segment that we are going to call All Star Arguments. Each article will highlight a player who deserves an All-Star bid but is lagging in votes behind inferior competition. We’ll provide all the statistics and information you need to make you an educated voter.
Here is the latest update in the NL All Star voting. Take note of the catchers.
The leaders are undoubtedly the biggest names in catching but isn’t the All-Star Game about highlighting the All-Stars of 2018? That’s not to say that the men listed aren’t deserving. Buster Posey is putting up yet another Posey-like season. Wilson Contreras is third in catcher WAR (the Fangraphs version) and Yasmani Grandal is leading all catchers in homers. Kurt Suzuki is having a good season but there’s a couple catchers not even on this list better than he is. Yadier Molina made the cut, somehow. We’re not here to talk about the players leading the vote though. The top two catchers in the National League are absent from this list: JT Realmuto and Francisco Cervelli. Both play for teams that aren’t getting a lot of exposure and both deserve their own article. For today we’ll focus on Francisco Cervelli (don’t worry JT will get his chance).
Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli.
You’re likely unaware of who Francisco Cervelli is, unless you cheer for one of the teams in the NL Central. Cervelli is the catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates and he was brought to the team in 2015 to replace Russell Martin, a key part of the Pirates breaking their 20 year postseason (and winning) drought. Before the Pirates, he never started, thanks to an inability to avoid injuries. Pittsburgh gave him a chance to shine and Cervelli took that chance and ran with it. He broke out in 2015, trailing only Buster Posey in catcher WAR. The Pirates quickly signed Cervelli to an extension. He is a fan favorite with his “It’s Amore” walk-up song and videoboard segment where he gives out romantic advice while wearing a monogrammed velvet robe.
Unfortunately, the injury bug struck again, again, and again. Over the last two seasons, Francisco played just over half a season’s worth of games. The biggest blow came when he broke the hamate bone in his glove hand. It sapped his power, already a weakness, and his contract was starting to look like a mistake. Finally, in 2018, his hand was completely healed, and he has shown that he can hit again. Cervelli has already eclipsed his single-season home run record and is on pace to have his best year yet.
Francisco isn’t just having a good year relative to himself, he’s performing as one of the best hitting catchers in the league. It really doesn’t matter which offensive statistic you use, Cervelli’s name will be near the top. Before listing stats, keep in mind that as of June 21st, only four NL catchers even qualify for the batting title, so the plate appearance range has been expanded to 150 PAs. That brings the number of catchers to 12.
Everyone has opinions but it’s hard to argue that those aren’t stats of an All-Star. Cervelli is top two in every category, except batting average. Analysts, teams, and fans don’t value average like they used to and it’s not like he’s striking in exchange for power. Cervelli is second in BB/K ratio (0.68). The BsR stands for base runs, which is basically how good a player is on the basepaths. The only reason it’s on this list is because outside of the top three catchers, every other catcher provides negative value when running.
Cervelli is clearly one of the best hitting catchers this season. Of course, catchers also need to be good defenders. That’s where Cervelli falls a bit flat amongst his peers. He’s not great at catching base stealers (32%) and DRS hates him (-5). The players currently leading the All Star voting do have good defensive metrics, although it is doubtful that fans are voting because of that one time Buster Posey blocked the ball. If fielding truly mattered in All Star voting, then Tucker Barnhart should be starting.
In the end, Francisco Cervelli is likely not getting an All-Star bid. Depending on your point of view perhaps his defensive liabilities are big enough that you truly believe he is unworthy. Everyone is entitled to their opinions but for his name to not even appear in the top five of voting is just disrespectful. Catchers that can play good defense are easy to find, finding a catcher that can bat in the middle, or top, of the order, are much rarer. #DistrictOfCervelli
***All stats obtained from fangraphs.com