By Jason Shetler
Entering last season, the Pirates planned on using John Jaso as their leadoff batter. While Jaso wasn’t the most conventional leadoff man, he had the reputation of getting on base. The one problem that occurred was Jaso being in a first base platoon with David Freese, so Jaso sat versus left-handed starters. Jordy Mercer at one point was used in the leadoff spot against lefties, while Josh Harrison was plugged in during the second half of the season. The Pirates lacked a consistent leadoff man in 2016, and the question becomes who will fill that role this season? – Personally, I think it’s time for the Bucs to use Francisco Cervelli in that spot.
After the Pirates were unable to re-sign Russell Martin following the 2014 season, they decided to go the “Moneyball” direction by acquiring Cervelli from the New York Yankees in exchange for lefty reliever Justin Wilson. Making just $987,500 in 2015, Cervelli gave the Pirates a solid on base presence in the lineup, posting a .370 OBP, which was second best among NL catchers behind only Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants. 2016 was an injury plagued season for Cervelli, but he did manage to put up an OBP of .377, which would have been tops among all MLB backstops had he qualified for enough plate appearances. To further make the case for Cervelli to be placed in the leadoff spot, here are his stats with the bases empty last two seasons in Pittsburgh.
Bases empty: .380 OBP, 117 wRC+, 11.1 BB%, 20.5 K%
Cervelli’s OBP has shown to be even better when there’s nobody on base. He’s done a terrific job of creating runs, as his wRC+ is well above league average, while the walk rate is solid. The strikeout rate isn’t terribly high for someone who can work deep counts as much as Cervelli does. Because Cervelli is productive against right-handers and left-handers in the on base department, he becomes the best viable option for the Pirates to have leading off in 2017.