Early positive signs with bat for Cervelli

Statcast data helps suggest catcher's left hand is healthy to start 2017

Early positive signs with bat for Cervelli

BOSTON -- With two outs in the fourth inning Monday at Fenway Park, Francisco Cervelli scorched a pitch from Rick Porcello to center field, only to watch Jackie Bradley Jr. make a sensational running catch at the railing by the Red Sox bullpen.

It was an out, but it still may have been a good sign for Cervelli.

Cervelli struggled to hit for power last season, posting a .322 slugging percentage and a .058 isolated power mark. He finished with 14 doubles, only three below his 2015 total, but just one home run in 393 plate appearances.

Cervelli wouldn't fully blame the power outage on a fractured hamate bone in his left hand, which required surgery on June 11 and kept him out until July 19. But it certainly didn't help.

"I had a lot of pain the whole year. I'm not going to put that as an excuse, but it's hard," Cervelli said. "You start compensating with other parts and trying to do more than what you're capable of doing. That's when things don't go the right way."

Statcast™ helps paint a clearer picture of the difference between the healthy, 2015 version of Cervelli and the one limited to 101 games last season.

Last year, Cervelli turned only four of his 225 batted balls into Barrels -- those with a combination of exit velocity and launch angle that create at least a .500 expected average and 1.500 expected slugging percentage. That rate (1.8 percent) was the lowest among 13 Pirates hitters who put at least 50 balls in play.

By comparison, Cervelli recorded 14 Barrels in 2015. His average exit velocity also dropped to 86.6 mph last season, down from 88.1 mph in '15.

"When you're healthy, you can do a lot of different things," Cervelli said. "I think it's going to be fine this year."

Cervelli's fourth-inning lineout on Monday qualified as a Barrel. The ball came off his bat at 104 mph with a 22-degree launch angle, a projected distance of 390 feet -- Cervelli's second-longest out since 2015 -- and a Hit Probability of 82 percent before Bradley robbed him of extra bases.

Cervelli also launched a double off the Green Monster in the seventh inning, and that ball left his bat at 101.9 mph. Power is not a focus for Cervelli, known more for his high on-base percentages, but it's always welcome.

"I work in the offseason to hit for more extra bases, but I'm not going to let it take away from my approach," Cervelli said.

The discipline Cervelli showed on Opening Day is also an encouraging sign for the Bucs' keep-the-line-moving offense. Last season, Cervelli posted a .377 on-base percentage, second-best on the team behind Matt Joyce, and a 14.2 percent walk rate that ranked 13th in the Majors among hitters with at least 300 plate appearances.

Cervelli saw 20 pitches in four plate appearances against the Red Sox and drew a seven-pitch walk in his first encounter with Porcello, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner.

"That's me," Cervelli said. "Battle every at-bat, try to see as many pitches as possible and try to make good contact."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.