keyboard_arrow_uptop

Fantasy pop quiz, hotshot: In standard 5×5 mixed leagues, which of the following catchers was the only one to finish as a top-10 performer at the position in 2015?

A) Kyle Schwarber
B) Yadier Molina
C) Welington Castillo
D) Yan Gomes
E) Francisco Cervelli

The correct answer, of course, is E, who finished ninth overall.

Since the title of this article gave away the answer, perhaps you’re not surprised, but as we began preparing for our #Catchella festivities over the last couple of weeks, I was a bit surprised about just how impressive (for a catcher) Cervelli’s 2015 season was. The main reason for my surprise was probably due to the fact that I owned Cervelli in exactly zero leagues this season. I looked at my home CBS league that uses all of the standard offensive categories plus on-base percentage to see where he ranked there, and he finished ninth overall as well.

So why exactly is Cervelli being drafted 20th among catchers so far this offseason? His brief track record as a starter is likely a reason, as is the presumed return to health of several catchers who missed large periods of 2015. Other explanations include that he looks too much like the Great Gazoo when he wears his oversized helmet and that he doesn’t excel in the sexy fantasy categories that captivate owners, and that he doesn't possess the power potential of some of the younger names that surround him on the leaderboard.

The Yankees shipped Cervelli to the Pirates in November 2014 after it became apparent that Pittsburgh wasn’t going to be able to afford to keep Russell Martin, giving Cervelli his first chance at regular playing time in the majors entering his age-29 season. He certainly capitalized on the opportunity. Cervelli received 510 plate appearances in 2015, his most as a professional at any level, and hit for a .295/.370/.401 line. His batting average placed him fourth among catchers with 300 or more plate appearances and his .370 OBP was second only to the greatness that is Sorta-Doctor Buster Posey. Anytime I see a catcher move to the National League and put up a strong on-base percentage in that ballpark, I have to check to make sure that he’s not largely benefitting from hitting in front of the pitcher, and based upon the chart below, which depicts all of the places in the lineup that Cervelli was given at least 50 plate appearances in 2015, it appears that he wasn’t.

Lineup Placement

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

BABIP

Batting 5th

58

.220

.304

.400

.244

Batting 6th

130

.283

.354

.354

.369

Batting 7th

217

.299

.366

.428

.368

Batting 8th

88

.363

.420

.438

.408

Cervelli posted a .370 OBP over his 162 plate appearances while serving as Brian McCann’s backup in 2014 as well, putting him ahead of the man he replaced in the Pittsburgh lineup, Russell Martin (.364 OBP), and behind only Posey over the last two seasons. Cervelli’s .359 BABIP in 2015 wasn’t a huge jump from his career .341 mark in 1,295 PA. A full slate of at-bats for Cervelli in 2015 also displayed his ability to hit right-handed pitching (.291 AVG with five home runs), as opposed to merely feasting on lefties, against whom he hit for a .310 AVG with two home runs in 116 plate appearances. Cervelli’s seven home runs in 2015 were obviously less than ideal, but did place him in a tie for 20th among backstops, and his overall production (119 wRC+) placed him second among catchers (once again) to Posey.

If you find yourself among the growing number of owners that end up choosing to punt the catcher position on draft day rather than spending a higher than preferable draft pick on a position that featured exactly one top-100 hitter in 2015, the main allure with a catcher like Cervelli is that he won’t be a drain on any single category, as he finished inside the top 10 in four of the six main categories (he finished 17th in RBI), and that he shouldn’t be in any danger of losing plate appearances to Chris Stewart, his projected backup once again in 2016.

Cervelli enters 2016 as a solid fallback option who could force his way into the standard mixed league picture once again and is certainly capable of providing solid—perhaps even top-10—production in OBP leagues for owners who miss out on an earlier target or make the decision to wait until the last few rounds to pluck a backstop off the board.