Rockies Demote Iannetta

According to the Rockies official website, the team will be demoting opening day catcher Chris Iannetta and calling up catcher Paul Phillips. The likely reason for the demotion is Iannetta’s poor start – in 8 games and 34 PAs, Iannetta has posted a .133/.235/.333 line. His 36 wRC+ is among the bottom 16% of players with at least 30 PAs. Miguel Olivo has taken over the starting catcher role in Colorado, thanks to a .311/.340/.667, 161 wRC+ line in 47 plate appearances.

This is just another exercise in the dangers of using small sample sizes to evaluate player performances. Miguel Olivo is showing all of the problem signs that have resulted in a .279 career on base percentage and an 82 career wRC+. Olivo’s BB% and K% of 4.3 and 35.6 respectively are right in line with his career marks, and his ridiculous .375 BABIP and 38.5% HR/FB rate are the only things keeping his line afloat. There’s no way that he sustains this kind of production, and ZiPS suggest we can expect him to produce at his typical .287 OBP level for the rest of the season.

Iannetta, on the other hand, has managed to exhibit both power and discipline despite his major slump on balls in play. He still has an 11.8% walk rate, slightly above average, and his 18.2% HR/FB rate is right in line with his career numbers. As a player who hits a ton of fly balls, Iannetta is going to have a lower BABIP than most players – his career mark of .273 is 27 points below league average – but still, a .118 mark is completely unsustainable, and given time to work itself out, Iannetta would start hitting at his normal levels.

It shouldn’t take long for Iannetta to make it clear that he belongs in the major league and for Olivo to demonstrate that he belongs on the bench. Iannetta should especially thrive at Colorado Springs, one of the most hitter-friendly parks in professional baseball. When Iannetta comes back and starts put up numbers like his career .349 wOBA, people will likely claim that the minor league stint helped him get his head right. In reality, it will simply be hits falling in for Iannetta where they weren’t before.

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36 Responses to “Rockies Demote Iannetta”

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  1. The Bunk says:

    I would be extremely frustrated if I were Iannetta. He’s an established big league player and big league players slump, that kind of rash decision would really sour me on organization.

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  2. god shammgod says:

    What’s this love affair with Iannetta? He plays in Colorado and carries a career line of .239/.357/.443. I know he’s considerably better defensively than Olivo, but it’s not like Matt Wieters is getting sent down here.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      Over the past three calendar years, Iannetta ranks 7th in OBP, 10th in SLG, 7th in wOBA, 7th in wRAA, and 7th in BRAR among the 45 catchers with at least 500 PA (wanted to use more PA, but the sort function here won’t let me). He’s also young, cheap, and in his prime. He’s not the second coming, but he’s definitely a quality MLB catcher. You don’t send down players with that kind of resume over a couple of bad weeks.

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  3. James says:

    How does his 10% LD rate play into the whole BABIP/luck situation? Seems like for more of those balls to be falling for hits he’s gotta make more solid contact instead of popping up or striking out…

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  4. PJ says:

    This is almost like the Chris Davis situation except the “hot prospect” is already on the MLB roster. There were questions about Iannetta coming into the year. His putrid line did nothing for the brass to think that it was going to be anything different was going to happen this year.

    The brass isn’t thinking about OBP, SLG, or wOBA, they are thinking about Ws and Ls. With the Rockies in such a competitive division, they just can’t have a black hole at a vulnerable position. I don’t think Iannetta comes back up unless he tears the cover off the ball because he has 1+ seasons of stigma he has to tear down. Davis had a year of built-in stigma where he was sent down to the minors. Iannetta had a time share with the king of C Yorvit Torreallba.

    Also, while Olivo might have a career .279 OBP, he also has a track record of 20+ HR a season, something which Iannetta does not have. He seems to be Bengie Molina-lite.

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    • If OBP is so important, why isn’t it on the scoreboard? DINGERS

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    • JH says:

      First, Olivo’s hit over 20hr exactly once, while Iannetta’s last two seasons he hit 16 and 18 in less than a full season. Second, even if we agree that Olivo will hit 5 or so more HRs than Iannetta over a full season, it comes at the expense of making 35-45 more outs, given the two players’ differences in their ability to get on base.

      Iannetta’s ability to avoid those 40 outs helps the team far more than Olivo’s 5 additional home runs. And that’s accepting your premise that Olivo has more power, which really isn’t supported by evidence. Their per-162 game HR totals: Olivo: 21, Iannetta: 23.

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      • PJ says:

        Imaginary games don’t count in the real world. If it did then Chris Davis would still be playing 1B for the Rangers since you know he had that one year he hit 21 HRs and that prorates to eleventy billion HRs.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Chris Davis is coming off an absolutely abysmal season in which he went .238/.284/.442 and has a .253/.302/.475 line for his career, and is a first baseman. Iannetta had a much much better season last year offensively and has had a much much better career offensively. And, you know, is a catcher, at the far opposite end of the spectrum for standards of offense. So, yes, the two situations are similar in exactly zero ways.

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      • The Hit Dog says:

        Come on, I can’t REALLY be the only one voting “-1″ for PJ’s posts, can I??

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  5. Jeremiah says:

    I don’t think this is a sign of the organization giving up on him, or even bringing in a temporary replacement in a division race. I think they see something wrong with his swing/approach at the plate, and are trying to give him an opportunity to straighten his problems out. Olivo can’t maintain his current performance, but the Rockies will ride it while it lasts, so Iannetta wasn’t going to get regular playing time. By going to Colorado Springs, he won’t have the pressure to perform well and he will be able to get more plate appearances.

    Honestly, I think the minor league stint will help him. It’s not just a matter of the hits not dropping. He’s had lots of check swings on pitches in the zone, and he’s been swinging at more pitches outside the zone and fewer inside. The toe tap that was introduced to his swing last year doesn’t seem to be helping. He needs some time to figure things out.

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    • David says:

      he also only has a first-strike percentage of 32%.

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    • Chris says:

      Exactly having watched all but one of the Rockies games (the day game ending the four game series in Washington was not televised) you can tell that Ianetta just isn’t seeing the ball well at all, which can cause him to get over or under on a pitch which would help lower his BABIP. BABIP isn’t a constant that will always regress to career and statistical norms, it can be almost as fluid as batting average. If you’re not making solid contact you’re not going to get a hit, it’s just that simple, ball goes in play, and ball is caught or runner is thrown out at first. If there’s something wrong his BABIP will be screwed up.

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  6. Melkmizzle says:


    1-The Rockies are trying to win now.
    2-One catcher is hitting, and the other isn’t.
    3-The one that isn’t has minor league options.
    4-They are only 4 years apart in age.

    This is not rocket science, you are all thinking too hard with this 1.

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  7. jar75 says:

    We are talking about 34 Plate Appearances, right? The problem is that the Rockies aren’t giving him regular at bats. This is an absolutely ridiculous demotion and I would bet that Jim Tracy had a hand in the decision.

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    • BlackOps says:

      Jim Tracy is terrible at managing a big league team. He may have them all “on the same page”… but watching him blow games is painful sometimes.

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      • Chris says:

        Yeah, that guy sucks… Blew so many games that we ended up going to the NLDS last season after starting 18-28. Fire him now.

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  8. Ted Hoppe says:

    Isn’t the point of sending him down to get him some playing time? He’ll be back up as soon as his bat comes alive. It’s a long season. Right now Olivo is hot, but he is just as streaky. The Rockies brought him in because of his long ball potential of Coors and Iannetta new from day one he had to win the job or at least produce to split.

    BTW: I drafted Olivo in Fantasy for one o my teams and picked him up for the other when Montero went down. I would have had Chris on my roster w/ Olivo if he was hitting.

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    • OzzieGuillen says:

      Makes sense to me. Play the hot hand. Get the cold hand hot by demoting him to the minors where he can get consistent playing time.

      The only hiccup in that logic is that Iannetta at his peak is better than Olivo. Even batting just .228 last season, Iannetta had a higher OBP and OPS than Olivo.

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    • Jake says:

      This is exactly what the Rockies announcers were saying last night and it makes total sense to me. Get Iannetta some at bats fairly close to home.

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  9. Huzzah says:

    The Rockies have gotten pretty lucky in that their other catchers performed well in 2009 and currently in 2010 while Iannetta was being screwed out of playing time. But that certainly only compounded the problem for Iannetta, as he has not had a long leash to just stick in the lineup through slumps since the other guy is doing well.

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  10. Zach says:

    I think your last point is the most important. For some reason, Tracy has never seemed to like Iannetta. I can’t remember the last time (with Tracy as Manager) that Chris got 4 or 5 games a week. I don’t think he played in consecutive games yet this year. Look at 2008, when he had a chance to really play. He hit .268 with 18 hrs and close to .400 OBP. His plate discipline and defense have always been superior to whoever else the Rockies have had. As a Rockies (and Iannetta) fan, I am pretty frustrated with the situation. Hopefully he straightens things out and comes back with a chip on his shoulder.

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  11. JD says:

    Have any of you guys actually watched any games? I’m a fan of sabermetrics, but this is too much. Iannetta looks bad at the plate right now, and Olivo is locked in. Plus Olivo is throwing out runners at an amazing rate. As to things like HR per fly ball, ummm, maybe his fly balls are being hit a little less high and a little more long these days? You act like it’s totally random.

    Iannetta has been like this before. 2007 comes to mind. I agree he can be good if he gets straightened out, but that’s what this move is for.

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  12. potcircle says:

    jim tracy has never shown iannetta any support, whatsoever…

    last year in the playoffs, against the phillies, tracy started torrealba over iannetta in all 4 games – 2 against cliff lee, one against cole hamels, and one against ja happ…

    they are ALL LHP…

    at the time, their lefty/righty ops splits were

    torrealba 610 / 779
    iannetta 986 / 733

    somehow, iannetta didn’t receive a single plate appearance. all four games. not one plate appearance.

    one of the more ridiculous pt decisions is recent playoff memory…

    iannetta was chosen for the olympics. from among everybody. to be sent down over 30 abs in favor of miguel olivo is retarded….

    and – it’s EARLY – these are a few other catchers w/ current abs/ops

    60 – 573 rod barajas
    44 – 570 greg zaun
    30 – 545 chris iannetta
    46 – 517 gerald laird
    58 – 499 john buck
    28 – 464 wil nieves
    39 – 436 mike napoli
    36 – 411 adam moore
    28 – 385 alex avila
    37 – 382 lou marson
    44 – 367 dionner navarro
    57 – 355 aj pierzynski
    28 – 225 taylor teagarden

    30 abs mean nothing. this is an idiotic move – and jim tracy is a douchebag.

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  13. Steve says:

    As a Giants fan I’m glad that Ianetta won’t be in the lineup and that we won’t have to face the Ubaldo in the upcoming series.

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  14. Rockymountainhigh says:

    I’ve watched every game this year and there’s no way you can justify sitting Olivo right now. Offensively and defensively, he’s been dramatically better than Ianetta. So, if you can’t play him, might as well send him down to get some ABs. He’ll be back and will contribute. Think the Rockies handled this one just right. I’ve been excited for Ianetta since he was a prospect but am starting to wonder if the SABRmetricians are seeing something that isn’t there with this guy. So far my eyes tell me he’s average defensively with some pop but with BIG holes in his swing.

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  15. potcircle says:

    rockymountain, yes you are high… it’s 30 abs. you want to start olivo over iannetta, well, that’s stupid, but fine, while olivo is hitting, let him start…

    but iannetta KILLS left handed pitching. 923 ops (2007-2009).

    and in 40 ab this spring, iannetta hit .350 with 10 rbi.

    a couple dozen bad abs is not a good reason to send down a .799 ops over 926 career abs catcher…

    iannetta should be furious.

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  16. Rockymountainhigh says:

    Actually, I’m basing my opinion on 2 years of watching just about every game. I’m no scout, nor a statistician, but I know that I’ve seen Ianetta go through LONG stretches where he is an automatic out. 2 years in a row a veteran has taken this guy’s job. But I’m sure you all know the deal better than Jim Tracy. This is a pretty sweet gig for you stat guys. Holler about your stats like they’re a law of nature, and when they don’t play out whine about sample size.

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    • pchk says:

      Well, despite all those stretches of being an “automatic out”, Iannetta still managed to be more valuable. Regardless of whether or not he’s absolute crap some weeks and great others, he’s still better on average. Using a guy who’s more reliable yet worse doesn’t really make sense. I think.

      Getting rid of the better guy either indicates you aren’t aware of his superiority (ignorance), you think reliable inferiority is superior (stupidity), or you somehow know his crappy performance over a small number of games isn’t just a fluke and he won’t turn it around (genius). I think the latter case is the most rare.

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  17. potcircle says:

    okay mountain… explain spring. did iannetta look bad hitting .350?

    players have slumps – look at my above list of catchers – it is rare to lose a job over 30 abs… tracy just doesn’t like the kid…

    or how do you explain 4 playoff games against lefty starters and iannetta doesn’t get an ab… was he in such a slump that his .900 ops against lefties is completely irrelevant?

    or, since you watch all the games and thus know better than the statistics, explain this…

    these are the catcher hitting stats for the rockies this year, by game…

    4/5 Iannetta 0-2, 2bb
    4/6 Iannetta 0-4
    4/7 Olivo 1-3. hr
    4/9 OLIVO, 2-4

    that 4th game is against clayton richard, a lefty, and iannetta already is no longer the starter… iannetta hit .350 this spring – don’t those abs count? cuz they sure didn’t to jim tracy.

    the truth is, and we only see this is hindsight, any suggestion iannetta was going to be treated like a starter was bullshit, because he lost the job by going 0-6 (with 2 walks)…

    and i’m guessing here, iannetta is already pissed, right? so…

    4/10 Iannetta, 1-6, with a hr

    but that’s just not good enough, because again, olivo gets the next 2 games…

    4/11 OLIVO 2-4
    4/13 OLIVO 2-5

    looks to anyone watching like iannetta is Olivo’s backup… especially because

    4/14 Iannetta, 3-5 with a hr….

    that’s 2 hr in 17 ab, and that’s not bad… yeah, he’s hitting .235, but (and here is where sample size makes people like me hate people like you) an extra dink puts him at .294, and two little flares would mean .352…

    so, come on, jim, let’s see what the kid can do…

    4/15 Olivo 1-3

    iannetta never started consecutive games after opening the season 0-6 – didn’t get a hit, either… of course, it was only 13 more abs spread over 2 weeks, so if he was in a funk, it’s hard to see how he’d get out…

    and although they hadn’t stated he’d been demoted to olivo’s backup, as of 4/9 or so, it would have been pretty hard for him not to notice…

    iannetta should be pissed. they get rid of torrealba, only to bring in another lesser player that the manager openly favors…

    can’t wait for him to leave and go to a better team…

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  18. vivaelpujols says:

    You do realize that walk rate and strikeout rate are equally as unstable as BABIP in <50 plate appearances?

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  19. Kerouac says:

    I’m from Iannetta’s hometown so his demotion hit doubly hard. But I understand what Tracy is saying about Chris showing bad body language at the plate. He fights himself every spring because of his history for slow starts. Chris is a sensitive kid and he lets bad starts get in his head. The Rockies want to win now. Olivo is playing great. Bringing up Phillips and getting Chris his ABs in AAA is a good short-term solution.

    The thing that bothered me came in early April when Chris hit a walkoff homer and collected 3 hits. If there was ever a day to keep Chris in the lineup, this was it, but Tracy chose to sit him the next day in favor of Olivo. That made no sense at all, considering Chris just signed a 3-year deal for $8.3M. He’s the guy you want to succeed, right?

    I love stats as much as most fans but this is a mental issue with Chris. As Yogi once said, 90 percent of this game is half-mental.

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