Going Deep: Francisco Cervelli Has Joined the Fly Ball Revolution

Francisco Cervelli has been one of the best catchers in fantasy this year, and it looks totally legit.

Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire

Francisco Cervelli has had a really interesting year this year. After years of not being much in the way of a fantasy contributor at all, he’s all of a sudden one of the best catchers in fantasy, and that’s mostly been thanks to his increase in power.

And what a power surge it’s been for Cervelli. His ISO has increased dramatically over where he’s been in seasons past:

That’s an increase from an ISO of .121 last year and .058 the year before to .257 this year. In fact, before this year, the highest ISO Cervelli had in a single season in which he played at least 80 games was .129 in 2011 with the New York Yankees. This year, it’s almost twice that.

Now, if you’re like me (and if you are, you have my condolences), you get skeptical of the sudden successes of older players. I’m more inclined to believe it when a young player breaks out than when a 32-year-old catcher who’s never been a fantasy asset in his career all of a sudden breaks out.

That being said, it’s far from unheard of. All you have to do is look at guys like Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner to know that an older player can make a definitive change in their approach that can lead to sustained success. So naturally, the first question when looking at the massive power surge we’ve seen from Cervelli is—has he made any changes in his approach?

The answer to that is a resounding and very clear yes. Cervelli has joined the fly ball revolution, he’s launching the ball more than ever before—all the signs are there.

We’ve got an increased fly ball rate:

A significantly decreased groundball rate:

A massive increase in launch angle (from 6.3 degrees last year to 19.8 degrees this year):

And an increase in his barrel rate (from 4.5% last year to 13.5% this year):

He’s also been keeping his hard-hit rate pretty consistently high, sitting at 38.7% for the year so far (a career high) and he’s seen a noticeable increase in his value hit percentage—from 4.9% last year to 10.7% this year.

His performance so far this year is mostly supported by his xStats as well:

2018 Stats .278 .396 .535 .311 .360 .397 8
2018 xStats .261 .382 .513 .283 .339 .384 8.5

The only thing that looks likely to decline as the season goes on is his batting average as his BABIP regresses a bit. That’s not necessarily surprising for a guy who’s changed his approach to sell out for power.

What’s encouraging is that his power—and most of his success this year—looks legit, and that’s a huge jump for him. Considering the guy recorded a -.008 OUTs last year that’s jumped to a .203 OUTs this year, that’s some significant production that could stick for the rest of the year.

As it stands right now, Cervelli is only available in 23% of leagues. However to me, that’s an opportunity, because he should absolutely be owned in 100% of leagues. This is real, this is legit, this isn’t a hot streak. There may be some slight regression coming, but on the whole, this is real.

If you’re lucky enough to be in a league where’s he’s available, grab him immediately. And if you happen to find an owner who thinks Cervelli’s just an old guy on a hot streak and wants to “sell high” on him, I’m generally fine with buying (depending on what the owner is asking for). I think there’s a really solid chance that Cervelli ends the year as one of the five best catchers in fantasy, and considering he was more than likely a free agent pickup for most owners, he’s likely to be one of the frontrunners for fantasy MVP by the end of the year.

Ben Palmer

Senior columnist at Pitcher List. Lifelong Orioles fan, also a Ravens/Wizards/Terps fan. I also listen to way too much music, watch way too many movies, and collect way too many records.

2 responses to “Going Deep: Francisco Cervelli Has Joined the Fly Ball Revolution”

  1. theKraken says:

    Do you think joining the flyball revolution is any different than any other power spike players from previous generations? I am thinking that you can probably always overlay optimized launch angle/pull pct/hard hit rate over an increased ISO. When you are going well I would expect data to support it – the real question is, can you sustain the changes? Were they real changes or is he just hitting balls well? You can have success and do things wrong. Take a guy like Joc Pederson who went from star to scrub. Just the other day I saw an article about Bryce Harper pulling the ball more and struggling – I doubt it is intentional – there are highs and lows and they are amplified by non LD approaches. I think we like to pretend that success and failure always are a result of change, but I am not so sure that they are. What do you think that Cervelli spent the majority of his career trying to do? Hitting a baseball doesn’t go how you want it to – there are a lot of variables – no two swings are the same, nor are any two pitches. The interesting thing for me is going to be whether he is able to continue to succeed with the altered approach if he did make some major changes. It has worked so far, but what about when the success dries up? There are a bunch of Joc-eque approaches that might work for a while… until they don’t. I think the analysis is solid and I don’t doubt that he will post a career best in HR or ISO – possibly a top 5 C season, its the title that I don’t completely buy into. I would expect any player posting counting stats that look like Cervelli’s to post underlying metric increases like he has so far. Its almost like you are looking for Statcast ways to explain what ISO increase is. You could even simplify this to OPS – you are going to find improvement wherever you look and I am not sure it is a result of a sustainable change. I am all over the place, but I would bet that you could tell this exact same story about every player that smashed his HR total throughout history – they don’t necessarily repeat and I am sure they often regress, which makes me question whether it is a change in approach or just being locked in. If being locked in were just something that you needed to realize, then everyone would do it. No issues with calling Cervelli a buy, its the idea that he just figured out how to hit which I am skeptical of. Maybe that isn’t your point – maybe you are trying to point out that he is locked in and I am taking it the wrong way – I would agree with that. Its a weird conversation (for me) because he already has a career year nearly in the bank. Do you think he will be top 5 going forward? That’s the real question that I think I have been ranting around… he is hitting .238 over the last 28 days and much of the power came in the first month. The changes may be real, but the ups and downs are going to be what determine how positive the changes actually were. Sorry for the rant!

    • Ben Palmer says:

      I’m curious what you think Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner did their entire careers up until their breakouts?

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