Iannetta, Conger, and the End of the Arencibia Era

If one were willing to go out on a limb, one might say that Blue Jays’ catcher J.P. Arencibia did not have the best year. Sure, he hit 21 home runs and, well, that is about it. With the rumor mill firing up in anticipation getting into full swing after the World Series, word has it that the Blue Jays are interested in acquiring one of the Angels’ catchers: either Chris Iannetta or Hank Conger.

On a superficial level, the Jays’ interest in replacing Arencibia might seem strange. He will be just 28 next season and has averaged just almost 21 home runs over the last three seasons. That is good power from a catcher. The problem is that power is about all Arencibia brings to the table. When Arencibia (then 25) was in his first full season, his bat was below average (91 wRC+), but that was just fine for a catcher, and his contact issues were made up for in large part by his good power. He did not walk much, but he was just below average in that respect, and given his age, could be expected to improve. With a bit of promise with the bat, his problematic glove might have been something with which the Jays could live, given a little regression up to the mean.

However, Arencibia’s bat, rather than improving or even staying the same, has gotten worse in each of the last two seasons. Reading meaning into linear trends in player performance is dangerous, but it is striking in Arencibia’s case. Each season since 2011, Arencibia’s walk rate, strikeout rate, and isolated power have gotten worse. His contact rate, never good, was at its worst this season, but he continued to swing away. Arencibia’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) will likely bounce back, but he is a slow, fly-ball hitter, so expecting it to come close to .300 would be extremely optimistic.

Defense is difficult to quantify for any position, but I think it is fair to say that whether one looks at various metrics or scouting opinions, Arencibia is not often confused with Yadier Molina.

Arencibia is eligible for his first year of salary arbitration in the coming off-season, and probably will not get a huge raise. Steamer actually sees him as having a decent 2014 season, despite the decline in his significant peripherals. Still, the Jays see more of Arencibia than anyone, and it makes sense for them to pursue other options. The targeted Angels are cut from a somewhat similar mold (one not uncommon among catchers) as Arencibia: slow, fly-ball hitters with seemingly problematic defense.

Five or six years ago, Iannetta looked like he might be a very good catcher, indeed. His batting numbers were inflated by Coors Field, but even after the adjusting for that, he was still a good hitter for a catcher, although there were always questions about his defense. One could get into chicken-and-egg discussions about whether the Iannetta’s performance was the justifiable cause of his subsequent benchings and demotions or the other way around, but the Rockies had clearly become frustrated with the low batting averages and dubious defense, and after 2011 Iannetta was traded to the Angels to make room for the disciplined approach (ahem) and defensive wizardry (AHEM) of Wilin Rosario.

Iannetta’s 2012 season was interrupted by injury, but in his two years with the Angels, he has been at least decent when on the field. His defensive work has been poor, but not bad enough to cancel out the value of a catcher with an above-average bat (107 and 111 wRC+ in his two seasons with the Angels, respectively). Iannetta still strikes out a lot and hits lots of fly balls thus leading to a low batting average, but he hits for enough power and takes enough walks to make up for it. Steamer projects more of the same. Iannetta is owed just over $10 million combined for 2014 and 2015, a good price for a player of his quality, even if the most plate appearances he has ever had in a season was 426.

While Iannetta is a known quantity as a decent veteran starter, Conger might be more intriguing. After seemingly languishing in the Angels system waiting for a chance behind Mike Napoli (OK, that makes sense) and Jeff Mathis (…), Conger got a bit of look in the majors in 2011, and a slightly better one in 2013. While he was in the minors, there were hopes that — at least in terms of his bat — he would turn out to be a mini-Napoli, but he has not yet showed that kind of power in the minors or the majors. This season, though, Conger — who will turn 26 in January — did show that he might be a viable major league catcher. Like Arencibia and Iannetta, he has a bit of a problem with strikeouts and contact. He does not walk much (and one should take his Pacific Coast League walk rates with a grain of salt), but he is not completely awful in that respect. Conger’s power is decent, and Steamer projects him to hit better in 2014 (96 wRC+) than Arencibia (82 wRC+), and a 96 wRC+ is fine for a catcher even without the comparison to Arencibia.

As with Arencibia and Ianetta, most evaluations of Conger’s ability to control the running game and block pitches are not positive. But there is another dimension of Conger’s work behind the plate that needs to be mentioned: His pitch-framing skill. It has been pointed out to me that ideally, pitch-framing would not be a usable skill at all, since we would want balls and strikes to be called perfectly. But we do not live in that ideal world, and there is some evidence that whatever his other problems behind the plate, Conger is very good when it comes to framing pitches, as Jeff Sullivan discussed in detail earlier this year. How much this improves his value, it is difficult to say, but it does matter. Conger is likely not the hitter than Iannetta is, but his pitch framing, age and lower cost make him arguably the better trade target.

Of course, this is all from the Jays’ standpoint. The Angels would have a say in any potential trade, too, and may very well want more for Conger. Either player would be better for the Jays, who despite their very disappointing 2013, are pretty clearly in “win now” mode given last off-season’s moves. As for Arencibina, I suppose one could make an argument for keeping him around as a backup, but it is not clear that he is all that much better than Josh Thole, who is already under contract for 2014.

While I personally find Conger more interesting, one can also see the arguments for Iannetta. Either way, it is probably time for the Arencibia Era in Toronto to come to a close. This assumes the Angels want to dance, of course. They could keep both Conger and Iannetta and have a nice catching combination next season. But if the Jays are somewhat eager to trade, the Angels might be able to extract something good. Maybe it would be a small measure of revenge for an earlier occasion when they traded a catcher with questionable defense to Toronto.




Print This Post



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


36 Responses to “Iannetta, Conger, and the End of the Arencibia Era”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. PraiseTrout says:

    Conger/Iannetta might not be the sexiest platoon, but they still combined for 3.1 WAR.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. LaLoosh says:

    if someone wants Ianetta, the Halos would prob take the opportunity to move him. Conger appears ready to take on more PT.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. tz says:

    Maybe they should ask the Mets about Travis D’Arnaud.

    +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. jim S. says:

    Don’t forget, Thole needs to catch R.A. Dickey.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. KCDaveInLA says:

    Brian Mccann would be awesome for the Jays, but the Yankees want him also.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Professor Ross Eforp says:

      McCann makes quite a bit of sense for the Mariners, too, since they seem to perennially think they can contend.

      McCann also makes quite a bit of sense for the Rangers.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Highball Wilson says:

    I wonder what Toronto would give for Yan Gomes?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Coodle says:

    Aw, I took the title seriously. Now I’m sad that Arencibia hasn’t gone away yet.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. isavage30 says:

    With this conversation about possible catching upgrades for the Blue Jays happening now, in 2013, I don’t see how the Esmil Rogers trade isn’t a fireable offense. Less than a year ago Gomes is a throw-in to a trade that was already balanced, Aviles for Rogers, and he puts up more WAR in 322 plate appearances than Rogers has in his career. And more than Conger and Iannetta combined. And he costs $9 million less than Iannetta over the next 2 years. I’m not even sure if Bill Bavasi would’ve agreed to that one.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Professor Ross Eforp says:

      Alex A. also gave away Napoli after stealing him from the Angels. Not that he would be helpful now, but I think a lot of the shine has worn off him.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Professor Ross Eforp says:

        IIRC, didn’t he trade Napoli for Frank Francisco?

        What is it with this man and giving up people that play the hardest position to play for people that play the easiest position to fill?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Brendan says:

          Napoli isn’t a catcher anymore in case you hadn’t noticed

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • exxrox says:

          It’s more about having the Napoli’s 2012 over Adam Lind’s..

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Professor Ross Eforp says:

          I wonder if that is why I wrote this, Brendan.

          Alex A. also gave away Napoli after stealing him from the Angels. Not that he would be helpful now, but I think a lot of the shine has worn off him.

          Napoli was a catcher when he was a property of the Blue Jays. Nobody is suggesting he could play the position now (or would be a Blue Jay).

          Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Boris Chinchilla says:

        The Rios and Wells salary dumps say that you are wrong. Frankly you don’t seem like much of a professor either

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Professor Ross Eforp says:

          The Rios salary dump? You mean when he let another team claim him? That was a genius move by him. I am sure he sweet talked the White Sox into putting that claim in. Here’s another newsflash, though; Alex Rios is still good at baseball. He has three 3+ WAR seasons (one was 4+ WAR) in the four full seasons since he has been gone. He has performed at the level of his contract since leaving.

          The Wells salary dump was a great move, but it is mitigated somewhat by moving Mike Napoli for Francisco. On the whole, getting out from that contract is a major win but the corresponding move never made any sense. Just the same as the Esmil Rogers deal never made any sense.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • chief00 says:

          @professor: The Rios move came under a different regime. JP Ricciardi put him on revocable waivers, the Sox claimed him, and the Jays moved a frustratingly-inconsistent player for salary relief.

          Hindsight plays a major role in the assessment of the Napoli-for-Francisco deal. Francisco had a lingering hurt when he came, which the Jays knew, and AA attempted to do what other teams have done pretty successfully: assemble a shut-down ‘pen. Check Francisco’s splits from June ’til the end of the year.

          Napoli was nothing special prior to the deal. There was no indication whatsoever that he’d be all-world with TEX.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Professor Ross Eforp says:

          I didn’t bring up the Rios deal. I assumed it happened under the current regime because it was thrown in my face.

          To be clear, I thought the Jays were really lucky that the White Sox claimed him when it happened. I thought he was done. The things we thought at the time of deals matters, but the results have to come into play at some point. The Blue Jays internal evaluations obviously did not pan out from the time.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Professor Ross Eforp says:

          Napoli was a solidly above average hitter with the Angels. He probably projected to post a wRC+ of 120 at the time. That isn’t fantastic for a 1B or a DH (if we assume they didn’t want to catch him), but it’s a lot more valuable than Frank Francisco.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • chief00 says:

          @professor: I used the phrase “all-world”: “solidly above average” is significantly below what he did. 2012 Napoli was strikingly similar to pre-2011 Napoli. That’s where hindsight is meaningful. If GMs could predict career years, like Napoli’s 2011 season…

          Trading something they had in abundance (1B/DH/C, i.e. Lind, Encarnacion, Napoli, Mathis, Arencibia) was dealing from a position of strength. Napoli offered nothing that these guys didn’t already offer.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jason B says:

      “I don’t see how the Esmil Rogers trade isn’t a fireable offense”

      Comments like this are armchair quarterbacking at it’s worst. Let’s watch and see how a trade plays out and if it’s not to our liking, fire the guy. Man I’m glad no one with such a ridiculous hair trigger watches my job performance that closely.

      “You were in the bathroom for 90 seconds, that should have only taken 60 AT MOST! Hit the bricks, guy.”

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • isavage30 says:

        Well, I wasn’t really being serious that THAT TRADE ALONE would be a fireable offense, that’s hyperbole. As an Indians fan, that trade was awesome. When it happened, I assumed Gomes was a nobody and just organizational fodder, because Aviles for Rogers looked like an even move, and the kind that could benefit both teams in small ways. Instead, Gomes is a strong defensive catcher, out-performed Carlos Santana, and was just about the Indians’ MVP this year. It’s not a case of watching how a trade plays out: if the Jays thought Gomes had a chance to even be a backup catcher in the big leagues, they shouldn’t throw him into that trade. They clearly didn’t think that, and that’s a problem.

        The Indians did something similar a while back when they got rid of Brandon Phillips, a move that haunted them for years, but Mark Shapiro’s job was safe because he balanced that horrible move by getting Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, Phillips, Choo and Adrubal Cabrera for a half-year of Bartolo Colon and a couple guys who disappeared from baseball. All of A.A.’s recent moves, on the other hand, worked out very badly. If I were their owner I’d give him a chance to make some more moves to try to get out of the mess they’re in, but it’s not hyperbolic at all to suggest that his job situation is precarious. They have made some poor evaluations of their prospects and of other teams’ veterans.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Matty Brown says:

    fuck, I hate Arencibia.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. MGL says:

    “How much this improves his value, it is difficult to say, but it does matter.”

    I think we can quantify pitch framing better than we can regular defense for all positions. It is just that it is a new technology and people are not comfortable with it yet. The actual method for quantifying it, whether that be WOWY or with pitch f/x data, is very straightforward, especially the latter (pitch f/x data).

    As far as I remember, JP is one of the worst pitch framers, which makes his value even worse. Not sure why you didn’t mention that. The thing about pitch framing is that you can actually watch it happen, unlike other aspects of defense at other positions. Watch someone like Molina catch a few games and then watch JP or Doumit when he used to catch (or Saltalmaccia from a couple years ago – he is better now).

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • exxrox says:

      One of the worst pitch framers…and pitch blockers…and worst in passed balls…and near bottom for CS%…with that abysmal OBP and lack of starting-catcher leadership, it has turned into a hell of a gongshow.

      The system still has some C prospects in it, and they can’t come fast enough. The amount of worthy starting catchers the Jays have squandered in recent years is astounding. D’Arnaud is unproven, John Buck is still an improvement, Yan Gomes is a better hitter, Jose Molina used us as a leap pad into a cushy starting job with TB.

      Mike Napoli is a whole other thing, which I’m also not too happy about.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. JeffWhitney says:

    Jeff’s sarcasm game is on point in this one.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>