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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