Chris Iannetta Re-Signs with The Rockies

If the rumor mill is accurate, one minor subplot of the off-season is an ongoing, bizarre, and (sadly) predictable bidding war involving many the usual suspects over a rather horrifying group of thirty-something catchers ranging from the Somewhat Acceptable Stopgap (Rod Barajas) to the Corpse of a Legend (Ivan Rodriguez) to the Virtually Worthless Veteran Leader (Jason Kendall). Things look like they are going to get ugly, and although it’s easy to find a perverse pleasure in mocking foolishness, when it’s unabated, the charm wears off.

That’s why I was happy to read that the Colorado Rockies bought out Chris Iannetta‘s three arbitration years for a reported $8.3 million with a five million dollar club option for a fourth year. It was good to be reminded that some clubs realize that they are allowed to give a catcher a multi-year contract even if he isn’t 35 with a projected on-base percentage south of .300.

What are the Rockies paying for? $8.3 million guaranteed over three years isn’t all that much on the open market, but remember that the Rockies are buying out arbitration years in which Iannetta would be paid less than his supposed market value. As a general rule, the three years of arbitration are assumed to be paying the equivalent of 40, 60, and 80 percent of the player’s free agent value. Spreading the money evenly over the three years and dividing by 40, 60, and 80 percent, we get an “open market equivalent” of about $15 million. Assuming that a marginal win currently costs $4.4 million, a half-win per season decline and 7% salary inflation, Iannetta is getting paid as if he’ll be a 1.5 WAR player in 2010. Is he worth it?

Catcher defense is notoriously difficult to measure. CHONE does defensive projections for catchers, and Ianetta comes in at three runs below average. That seems fair, although it’s worth noting that my own take on catcher defense had him above average for 2009, at least. The Fans Scouting Report for 2010 also has him rated slightly above average. I’ll stay with Rally’s minus 3 to be on the conservative side — he probably isn’t worse that that.

Offense is easier to measure and project. CHONE projects Iannetta to hit .259/.370/.463 in 2010. My own projection gives a similar line: .254/.373/.477. ZiPS is a bit less optimistic at .241/.353./.437, but is in the same general neighborhood. The CHONE projection (as well as mine) would be about 20 runs above average per 150 games, but we also need to adjust for park and league. CHONE gives us neutralized linear weights of 8 runs above average per 150 games.

Adding it all together with the prorated positional adjustment for catcher, per 150 games Iannetta projects as a 3.7 win player. Almost no catchers play 150 games, and Iannetta has only played more than 100 once in the last three seasons. Conservatively assuming he can only play 100, he still projects as a 2.5 WAR player, and given that the new contract (hopefully) means that the team is over Yorvit Torrealba Fever, he should get more playing time in the coming seasons. This is a very good deal for the Rockies.

Iannetta gets the security of a guaranteed contract, but sacrifices potentially larger arbitration awards. The club option also may cost him. No worries, though, Chris. If you manage to stay at catcher until your mid-thirties and absolutely can’t hit, your agent can always convince some general manager that you’re great at handling a pitching staff and get you a series of multi-million dollar deals for replacement level performance.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

12 Responses to “Chris Iannetta Re-Signs with The Rockies”

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  1. Joe R says:

    So how much will Jason Varitek get in 2011?

    Over/Under set at 2 years / $7,000,000

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  2. geo says:

    Wow, everybody is sure down on the catcher signings this year, but nobody is presenting a viable alternative for those clubs that need to find a catcher. They don’t exactly grow on trees. Sure, the Ianetta signing was great for the Rockies, but it’s not like he was available to other clubs.

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    • Joe R says:

      The reason people are down is because name brands are still getting bigger contracts while decent ones are getting less.

      Big example: if these teams wanted catcher help, why are they paying more for guys like I-Rod or Kendall when they could’ve had a guy who could actually help their team like Gregg Zaun (who by the way will make less than I-Rod despite being better at pretty much every facet of the game at this point).

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  3. shiloh says:

    Iannetta grew up in my hometown of Pawtucket, R.I. He has been a notoriously slow starter at the plate every year. Been doing this since college. He opens the door every year for Yorvit to get playing time. Last April, Chris hit .174. And he never really got it going last year. Still, he is a patient hitter with good power, especially to right-centerfield. He handles pitchers well and should become the Rockies’ No. 1 catcher this year. You would think.

    I read where Yorvit hit .488 in RISP situations last year. No wonder Jim Tracey fell in love with the guy. Hurdle loved him, too. Yorvit’s a tough guy to beat out for a starting job.

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  4. Choo says:

    Matt, thanks for the links and dialogue. The most valuable defensive position on the diamond (in theory and by way of positional adjustment) gets little attention due to it being a famously unmapped frontier of advanced statistical analysis. That is exactly why we should be discussing it more.

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  5. divakar says:

    I’ve posted about Iannetta on this site before, and it seems like the general consensus is that he isn’t as good as I *hope* he can be… I agree with Klaassen, this is a fantastic deal for the Rockies.

    On the other hand, I’m very surprised (and happy) that the Rockies are committing to him like this. I actually expected him to “breakout” with some other team, given Yorvit Fever…

    About Iannetta:

    His contact rate is problematic, for sure – yet, there are components to his game that keep me fascinated:

    1. Low O-swing % coupled with high BB-rate (he has a great eye, resulting in walks).

    2. Decent non-Ground Ball rates, coupled with high ISO (he lifts the ball and has power)

    And while his Contact Rate is low, it has increased every year in the majors up to 76.5% last year. That’s not unreasonable for a good power hitter. I’d rather have him hitting 53% fly balls than slamming that contact into the ground! Perhaps he can turn that new contact into line-drives? But I digress…

    Without much improvement, Iannetta is a worthy catcher for the Rockies.

    If he puts his offensive skills into one complete package? He’ll have an OPS north of .900 and the Rockies just made a magnificent move for their catcher position.

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  6. Kampfer says:

    Lifting the balls is definitely the right approach when you call Coors home.

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  7. WY says:

    “It was good to be reminded that some clubs realize a one is allowed can give a catcher a multi-year contract even if he isn’t 35 with a projected on-base percentage south of .300.”

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  8. Logan says:


    This was pretty perfect analysis. Took me a while to get around to reading (an article about Iannetta re-siging with Colorado doesn’t scream “Read Me!”), but this was definitive and accurate.

    Good stuff.

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  9. Matt Pamplin says:

    Awesome site. Gives me the motivation to lose weight this year. Will be visiting again. I want to look slim for the beach!

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