Cervelli Playing a Small Role in the Pirates’ Stolen Base Problems

There has been very little to complain about in regards to the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation. The group is currently tied for the third best WAR in baseball, along with the third best ERA and the fifth best xFIP. There has been one trend which is a bit of a concern, and that has been the issue of stolen bases. Ken Rosenthal pointed out the problem today, drawing the connection to new catcher Francisco Cervelli.

The walk rate is a different subject, but in terms of the stolen bases, I don’t think this can be placed on Cervelli. A closer look at the Pirates’ starters will show that the stolen bases are coming off specific pitchers, with two┬áin particular being a problem. Here are the opposing stolen base numbers against Pirates starters.

A.J. Burnett – 7-for-7

Francisco Liriano – 3-for-4

Jeff Locke – 3-for-6

Gerrit Cole – 2-for-2

Vance Worley – 1-for-1

Only Locke has a good caught stealing rate, falling far below the 70% range or better that would make stolen bases worthwhile. To get an idea of how frequently runners are stealing, lets look at the percentages of stolen base attempts, divided by opportunities where a runner was on base with second or third base open.

Burnett – 17.9%

Liriano – 12.1%

Locke – 17.6%

Cole – 6.7%

Worley – 2.8%

The NL average is 6.2%, which means that opponents are running on Burnett, Liriano, and Locke far more than average. Once again, the numbers against Locke (in a small sample size) aren’t bad, so it’s not a problem that runners are going at will. It is a problem that runners are stealing against Burnett almost three times as often as the average pitcher, and all of them have been successful. Although I don’t know how much of an issue that has been, since Burnett has a 1.80 ERA and a 3.50 xFIP.

A few people responding to Rosenthal also brought up the fact that the Pirates went up against Billy Hamilton and the Reds for their first three games. In that series, Hamilton stole six bases, and wasn’t caught once. He accounted for both of Gerrit Cole’s stolen bases and stolen base attempts, and added two for Burnett. If you remove the Hamilton factor, the results are still the same, with runners stealing at an increased rate off Burnett, Liriano, and Locke, and being very effective against the top two guys.

Cervelli’s caught stealing rate is down, with his 19% rate being his lowest in the last three years. The amount of opportunities is way up this year. He’s seen 26 stolen base attempts in 139.2 innings this year. He had 24 in 348 innings last year, and 28 in 316 innings in 2011. The rate at which opponents are stealing is way up this year. There might be some better results if Martin was the catcher, but the biggest factor here seems to be the pitching staff, specifically Burnett and Liriano.


  • Um- you can’t throw out runners when you can’t even catch the ball cleanly, and a few of his throws have been downright awful. Whether or not he had a chance to throw out those guys, he IS not a small problem currently

  • Corporate_Joe
    April 30, 2015 1:32 pm

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to compare the amount of attempts against Cervelli this year to his seasons in NY. Just from looking briefly at Baseball-Reference, the four other teams in the AL East had the four least amount of SBs in the AL last season (248 total), while the four other teams in the NL Central had 346 total SBs in 2014.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    April 30, 2015 10:10 am

    In regards to starting pitching, Burnett is the only change – replacing Volquez. The only other change was at the catcher position….so, the catching change has to be a significant factor in this. Which is not a shocker, as Martin was and is one of the best in baseball in throwing out runners.

    Cervelli has exceeded my expectations, so far, with the bat – not so much with the glove and arm.

    • Exceeded your expectations with the bat? Mighty high bar you started with, there.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD
        April 30, 2015 4:20 pm

        No, I had very low expectations actually – I wasn’t crazy they traded for Cervelli – he’s been injury prone and a cheater…

  • It’s AJ’s last season. You’re not going to get him to change things now. It’s just something we’re gonna have to live with. In the overall scheme of things, I’m not all that concerned. I’d rather our starters learn to keep Hamilton off the bases in the first place.

    • You mean like throwing more 2-seamers, changeups,a nd buying into shifts?

      Yeah, that AJ never changes.

  • While certainly true – the running game has visibly been neglected by the pitchers in question – isn’t it also true that at least the narrative surrounding Martin was how well he handled and helped the staff in all facets?

    I’m obviously not in the dugout. I don’t know who instructs the pitchers on pickoffs. But I do know, generally speaking, that often times this comes from the catcher, and there’s been a noticeable absence of attention paid so far. This could admittedly be seen as a red herring, but batteries in sync with one another and game situations don’t give up two double steals in one inning.

    Fair or not, Cervelli’s bat sure isn’t going to carry his game and he’s going to have to do more than frame well to be a first division starter.

    • Sorry, you are not going to tell me that Burnett’s issues, for one, with holding runners is Cervelli’s problem. Not now, not ever. I’ve been participating in and watching the game far too long to buy that.

      • That and the fact that AJ has basically never kept runners in check well at all. AJ is AJ at this point, and i just dont see him changing his game a ton. He has, at times, been a bit more careful with varying his wait time but once he goes into his motion he just isnt quick to the plate.

        Overall, i see the current issues as more related to the SPers as opposed to Cervelli not realizing holding runners is important.

      • Absolutely correct, leo. Now explain the rest of the guys, please.

        Like I said, I’m not here to tell you definitively that the catcher plays a role in the Pirates specific scheme of holding runners. I don’t know that answer, and it would be great if Tim could do some digging. But I do know that *some* catchers *absolutely* do take on that responsibility, and we’re simply not watching the same baseball games if you don’t notice a distinct difference between this year and last. I do expect this to change, but right now it is what it is.

        Without knowing this my argument is certainly more correlation than causation, but there sure as heck enough smoke here for me to pump the breaks on definitively throwing up my hands and saying there’s nothing more that Cervelli could be doing. Again, if we valued so much of Martin’s intangible benefits controlling the staff, I don’t think that should now be forgotten.

      • Great seeing you guys back around talking ball, by the way. Looking forward to more quality than quantity discussion under Tim’s new format.