The landscape of catching was changed on Wednesday night as two of the more imposing backstops ever to wield the lumber switched teams. OK, I couldn’t type that with a straight face, so I had to stop before it got out of control. The truth of the matter is that a couple of catchers changed teams on Wednesday, and while neither of them is a star, both bring solid bats to their new homes and provide fantasy leaguers decent options after the elite hitting backstops are off the map.
Angels Trade: Tyler Chatwood
Rockies Trade: Chris Iannetta
First, and most obvious, is the fact that the Angels had a catcher that could sock the ball in Mike Napoli, and they soured on him and let him go in one of the worst decisions of last offseason. As a result of that terrible decision the Angels had hideously producing backstops with a bat in their hands last year (in fact, their catchers in 2011 hit .192 with a .252 OBP). Iannetta will certainly help to give the Angels a bat that can cause some damage on offense.
Iannetta has holes in his swing as his .235 career batting average would attest to. However, he does a couple of things very well. First off he powers the ball. Per 400 at-bats in his career Iannetta has averaged 18 homers. Only nine catcher eligible players hit 18 homers last season. Iannetta has never recorded even 350 at-bats in a season as the Rockies stubbornly refused to give him that much work – he had 345 at-bats last year – but all he needs is a few extra games at DH to make 400 a possibility.
Iannetta’s other skill, overlooked by some teams, is his ability to get on base. The owner of a .357 career OBP, Chris posted a mark of .370 in 2011, better than all but two catchers who had at least 450 at-bats (Alex Avila at .389 and Victor Martinez at .380). As a result of all the walks he also owns a career 0.64 BB/K mark. Teams should realize that his power/patience approach at the dish is ideal for a catcher.
The biggest concern with Iannetta is two-fold. (1) Will Mike Scioscia play him on a consistent basis? It’s not like he’s ever stuck with just one catcher and actually let him play since Bengie Molina left town. (2) Will Iannetta be able to hit away from Coors Field? Iannetta posted a .587 OPS on the road last year (.975 at Coors), and for his career his OPS is .162 points lower on the road (.707).
Rockies Sign: Ramon Hernandez
2-years, $6.5 million
The Rockies covered themselves by signing Ramon Hernandez to fill the gap behind the dish when Iannetta was dealt to the Angels. On the downside of his career at 35 years old, Hernandez can still be a productive offensive performer if managed properly.
The last time Ramon had 325 at-bats was 2008, but he can still do some things with the bat. After hitting in the .250′s 3-straight years (2007-09) Hernandez bounced back to hit .297 in 2010. Unfortunately he hit only seven homers in 313 at-bats. In 2011 both facets of his game were on display as he hit .282 with 12 homers. Still, there are some concerns.
Most obvious on the list of worries is Ramon’s age. Catchers have a habit of breaking down rather quickly when they hit their mid 30′s. If managed properly this is less of an issue, but it also means his fantasy value will be kept low because he won’t be playing every day. Second on the list for Hernandez is the fact that his GB-rate continues to grow. The last two years it has been over 51 percent. Even at Coors Field you aren’t going to hit a lot of long balls if more than half of your batted balls are killing grass.
If I was ranking these guys right now I’d have Iannetta ahead of Hernandez. I wouldn’t be shocked if Ramon had a better batting average than Iannetta, but I’d also be fairly surprised if his at-bat total was within 75 to 100 of Iannetta. As such, Iannetta figures to be a much better play in the counting categories in 2012. I also won’t be overly surprised if people end up drafting Hernandez a bit ahead of Iannetta because of the Coors Field factor making Iannetta a slightly better value. The bottom line is that in standard mixed leagues both guys seem like solid options as a second catcher.
By Ray Flowers