It is said that catchers are the generals of the baseball diamond and over the past few seasons this has been extraordinarily true for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Bucs have had their fair share of hits and misses in player projects, but recently it appears the Bucs have been getting a lot of hits when it comes to the catcher position — literally.
Remember the days of pulling your hair out because Rod Barajas couldn’t square a ball up any better than he could throw a runner out? Or watching fan favorite Michael “The Fort” McKenry play outstanding defense only to struggle in hitting over .230? Now, those days are nothing but a distant memory.
Before being graced by Russell Martin and his leadership, Pittsburgh had a long standing void at catcher that seemed to plague the team year in and year out. With Martin’s departure over this past offseason, fans were left upset and ultimately wondered: Who will be the Bucs’ next field general?
That question was answered on November 12, 2014 when the Pirates dealt lefty relief pitcher Justin Wilson to the New York Yankees for Francisco Cervelli. What appeared to be a questionable move at first to some, due to his health, has turned out to be one of, if not the best offseason acquisition.
To further make the case that the addition of Cervelli was the best offseason acquisition, below are some compared stats between the first year Pirates catcher and Martin.
Clearly Cervelli has done an outstanding job both offensively and defensively considering whose shoes he had to fill. The 29-year-old has been able to stay healthy, more importantly, though, he has become a vocal leader on and off the field. Thankfully, it is not just Cervelli that has made the catching corps so good this season, there is another piece to the puzzle that makes his job a little easier.
Chris Stewart has been with the Pirates for only two years but quickly gained the reputation as a solid, consistent and reliable backup catcher. In 30 starts with Stewart behind the plate this season, Pittsburgh has a record of 23-7. Additionally, in 131 at bats, the 33-year-old is hitting at a .282 clip with 37 hits and an on-base-percentage of .319.
For Stewart, it is a bit of a change considering how he struggled before joining the Pirates. Having such a reliable backup is a blessing in disguise, especially when your starter is known to be injury prone. Although his stats have declined from the previous season, Stewart has put together yet another solid season where manager Clint Hurdle can lean on him if needed.
Regardless of who is calling the game, Pittsburgh has been fortunate enough to have field generals that do more than just contribute with their bat. Who can forget Cevelli going berserk after a bad foul ball call by home plate umpire Vic Carapazza that turned into a Mark Reynolds home run on the following pitch? Having players with chips on their shoulder and who stand up for their pitchers is what every team needs.
Cervelli and Stewart have been a piston in this Pirates engine that keeps finding a way to produce and drive the machine forward. No doubt there are many parts of this team that makes the Buccos so successful. But, knowing that in each game there will be a catcher who wants to, and usually does, contribute to an overall team effort, makes this season all the more special.