Has Chris Stewart's defense given him an edge for the starting role? (Image: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports)

The Yankees' 2013 Starting Catcher Dilemma


At this point, not only is the free-agent market shrinking, but so are the hopes of finding a worthwhile catcher. For Francisco Cervelli, he’s been up, down and all around the New York Yankees organization and 2013 may finally be the time he proves himself. Between Cervelli and Chris Stewart, at least in the minds of some fans, it becomes a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario, but I don’t see it that way.

Cervelli has started before and even then he had big shoes to fill, aka Jorge Posada when the former star was injured in 2010. Is Cervelli perfect defensively? No. Will his bat make pitchers tremble on the mound? Not even close. However, Cervelli is competent enough to start.

For Stewart he may not have played in as many games as Cervelli, but has shown a little more productivity. He doesn’t have the exact same consistency at the plate like Cervelli does, but behind the plate is where he shines. The Yankees main reasoning for keeping Russell Martin in 2012 and offering him a (declined) contract for 2013 was for his defense. Maybe the Yankees can expect the same out of Stewart.

So this begs the question, who is to start in 2013?

While Francisco Cervelli may not be noted for power, he certainly can get on base. (Image: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports)

Let’s start off with Cervelli. More specifically, let’s take a look back to 2010 when Cervelli played in 93 games, the most in one season for him thus far. That year, Cervelli recorded a .271/.359/.335 slash line, which isn’t all that bad. Sure, he didn’t hit any home runs and has only hit five professionally, but you don’t see Brett Gardner belting balls out of Yankee Stadium now do you? Power isn’t everything and what’s more impressive about Cervelli is that .359 on base percentage. He K’d 13.2 percent of the time, but in the same regards, also walked 10.4 percent of the time. He produced 38 RBIs, scored 27 runs and one stolen base — he was a pretty efficient hitter.

Defensively for Cervelli, he’s not bad per say, but he’s also something the Yankees want to avoid. To begin with, he only threw out 9 of 55 batters who attempted to steal on him in 2010. That’s pretty rough. Not to mention he allowed 35 wild pitches which really is something this team could do without. He may have played in 93 games, but only 80 of those were spent behind the plate. It’s a bit rough to allow what he did, but still, I’d like to cut him some slack. He’s still fairly young at 26 and clearly two years prior to this season, he was still learning. He did however manage to have a .980 fielding percentage when 2010 was all said and done.

Now let’s talk about Stewart and his 2012. Why 2012 and not his 2011? Well obviously we’re looking at how these two have done with the Yankees, not other teams. In 2012, Stewart played in 55 games and was efficient offensively, but not as efficient as Cervelli in 2010. Looking at his slash line of .241/.292/.319, it’s about what you’d expect from a catcher, or even more so a backup. He, like Cervelli, isn’t a power guy, but he gets the job done. He was however able to smack eight doubles and one home run alongside 13 RBIs. The most games he’s played in professionally came in 2011 when he played with the San Francisco Giants and had 67 games under his belt. He only had 157 at-bats in 2012, so perhaps we just haven’t seen enough out of him to make a clear judgment.

Where Stewart thrives though is defensively. While Cervelli may have an edge on Stewart offensively, Stewart has an edge here. He only caught in 54 games and was pretty solid behind the plate finishing with a .990 fielding percentage. He threw out 30 percent of the runners who tried to steal on him. He also only allowed 10 wild pitches, but did allow eight passed balls. He certainly isn’t perfect behind the plate, but say he had played in the 80 games Cervelli did in 2010, he might have a few less blemishes. Stewart will also be 31 in February so maybe age isn’t something the Yankees want to go with considering their roster, but in the end does age really mean anything negative?

In my view, it’s really hard to tell who gets the job. Clearly, Austin Romine is about another year or so away from being up in the majors, so the Yankees can’t rush him up for 2013. We may just have to roll with the punches on this one and go with our gut. It may be my bias toward him, but I feel Cervelli needs to be the starter in 2013 if the Yankees are truly unable to come to terms with A.J. Pierzynski or any other free-agent who might be out there. Cervelli’s played more with this team, has learned the pitchers, and provides a more solid bat than Stewart. This isn’t to cut Stewart down, but in the end, as we saw in the playoffs this season, the Yankees’ problems going forward may be more centered toward the offense.

Stats courtesy of FanGraphs.

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Tags: Chris Stewart Francisco Cervelli New York Yankees

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=736781775 Justin Martin

    I disagree, many other teams call up their youngsters after AA so call up Romine and let him start period. He is this great prospect so lets see what he has period. Now if there is more to the back injuries where he isn’t 100% that’s one thing but if not lets see some of these kids the next 2 years to see what they can offer. Almonte, Mesa, Adams, Joseph, Romine, Warren, Banuelos, Betances, and Montgomery should be the players the Yankees are checking out.

    • Chris_Carelli

      I agree in reference to Romine. He’s not considered the long term option, so if he fails, I don’t think there is too much care about making him the backup and stunting his growth, or just sending him back to Triple-A. In my view, Romine’s upside is worth the shot now and certainly no worse than what we know we’d get from Cervelli or Stewart. I think Romine will be given a chance in Spring Training, hopefully he runs with it.