Chris Iannetta Appreciation Day: Help Me Understand

We’re now sitting here in mid-July and four times the Catcher Rankings have been adjusted to reflect both the current season’s performance and expected rest of season projections.  For the most part, the criticisms have been mild as we all seem to be, reasonably, on the same page.  However, there’s one thing that continuously sticks out at me and today, I feel it’s time to address it.  The title obviously says it all, but still, I feel it necessary to ask the question:  What’s up with all the Chris Iannetta love?

Listen, I get where most of you are coming from — those of you citing his uber-inflated BB% and subsequently overblown OBP, but is he really doing so much that he warrants this “best kept secret” label for catchers that some of you are tagging on him?  Remember, this is fantasy baseball here, and frankly, if we’re talking about a standard one catcher league with the usual five categories for offensive players, then Iannetta shows up as just your average backstop…barely.

There’s no denying that Iannetta has quality power potential.  His current .192 ISO ranks seventh amongst catchers who have appeared in atleast 50 games this season and with a career mark of .200, you know he’s got some muscle there.  However, when you look at the power totals in the counting stats, his 10 HR ties him for sixth with the likes of Alex Avila, whom very few of you seem to believe in, Matt Wieters, whom most of you have written off over the last year or two, and players like Ramon Hernandez and John Buck, both of whom could have been had for much cheaper in your draft.  So he’s got the power potential but isn’t doing much with it really, atleast not like Carlos Santana or even Miguel Olivo are doing.  His 34 RBI ties him for 11th, nestled ever so gently behind Jonathan Lucroy.

Some will point to his no-better-than-average RBI total and immediately blame Jim Tracy for burying him in the 8-hole in the order.  However, considering Clint Hurdle had him hitting seventh or eight for most of his tenure as manager, one would have to assume that maybe the blame should fall on Iannetta’s current .219 batting average — .232 for his career.  Sure, his OBP is great and that allows for more sacrifices by pitchers during the games, but when the guy is more of a guaranteed out than a productive member of the lineup, where else are you going to hit him?  Cleanup?

What about the rest?  Runs scored?  Adequate.  33 runs scored has him tied for seventh.  Speed?  None.  His three steals this season actually marks a career high and one that will probably not be improved on at all.  WAR?  Who cares?  I’ve yet to play in any fantasy baseball league that counts WAR as a category.

So here we are with average home runs, average RBI production, average runs scored, no speed, and a batting average that’s slightly better than that of your dead grandmother.  He’s been in the league since 2006, peaked in ’08, and has been nothing short of disappointing since.  Some might say that ranking 7th or 8th in a category is better than average considering the number of catchers in the league, but when most leagues consist of anywhere from 10-14 teams, you’re cutting the necessary player pool in half.  Even less, actually.  Maybe if your league counts OBP or OPS instead of batting average then you’ve got yourself a slightly above-average backstop, but again, is he giving your fantasy team that much more value than you could get later on or cheaper in your draft?

::shakes Magic 8 Ball::

No.




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Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site, RotobuzzGuy.com, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com

48 Responses to “Chris Iannetta Appreciation Day: Help Me Understand”

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  1. Frank says:

    Writing in the first person AND addressing the audience directly? Ugh. Not good writing.

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  2. mcbrown says:

    Please point me to this supposed criticism of your rankings re: Chris Iannetta. I just reread the comments on your last catcher rankings, and the closest thing I saw to a criticism was “Poor Iannetta getting judged as a 5×5 player when he is an ottoneu lwts hero”. Even that “criticism” was not at all disputing the notion that Iannetta is mediocre at best in a 5×5 league.

    In the meantime, have fun beating up that strawman, Howard.

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  3. Rafael says:

    “Sure, his OBP is great . . . but when the guy is more of a guaranteed out than a productive member of the lineup. . .”

    Ummm, I’m not sure you understand what OBP is…

    You do realize that Ianetta is less likely to make an out in a given plate appearance than any player on the team (except Helton) who has more than 200 plate appearances, right?

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    • Howard Bender says:

      Yes, an exaggeration on my part and a poor choice of words. I do think his OBP is inflated by his walk rate which is directly related to his spot in the batting order. His IBB total isn’t very high at all, but I’m willing to bet he gets pitched around quite a bit.

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    • DanP says:

      “Sure, his OBP is great . . . but when the guy is more of a guaranteed out than a productive member of the lineup. . .”

      Its hard to get by this phrase. Iannetta being very productive and not being a guaranteed out is why i love him.

      And its not a poor choice of words, its the exact opposite of the truth.

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  4. Mike Podhorzer says:

    More of a guaranteed out than a productive member of the lineup??? Iannetta’s .353 wOBA ranks 4th amongst all catchers and 5th among Rockies everyday players. He has been a pretty good hitter this year, but his managers obviously can’t seem to get past his low batting averages. His low runs scored and RBI totals are the result of him hitting 8th, not a lack of production. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like his manager will ever understand how to evaluate offensive value and Iannetta is therefore likely to remain at the bottom of the order.

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    • Howard Bender says:

      Maybe it’s not evaluating offensive value as much as it is his expected value hitting higher in the lineup. Would his BB%/OBP/wOBA be as high as it is if he were hitting higher in the lineup? You’d think a guy with such great on-base totals would be better suited to hit in more of a table-setting spot, no? If a pitcher can pitch around a guy to face a pitcher in the lineup, then you’d think that said guy would have a greater chance of getting on base, right? Maybe that’s why his rates look so good and his counting stats so poor….

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      • Repo Man says:

        In a situation like this, the onus is basically on you to show some evidence that your hypothesis is true (that all of his rate #’s are significantly inflated by batting 8th). Until that happens, I will still trust the numbers on face value.

        I don’t really mean this as a criticism of your hypothesis. I understand the logic behind your hypothesis. But that’s all it is, just a guess, and I hope you understand why I can’t assume that it is true.

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      • jrogers says:

        “You’d think a guy with such great on-base totals would be better suited to hit in more of a table-setting spot, no?”

        Maybe that’s a Jim Tracy problem, not a Chris Iannetta problem.

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      • Asher says:

        Has there been any study that shows that NL #8 hitters are walked more often than the batters before them? Or that individual players’ OBP’s increase when they’re slotted into the 8 hole? Like Repo Man I see the logic there and am willing to accept it’s probable but would love some stats to confirm…

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      • Howard Bender says:

        At first glance, what I was able to find was that, in 2011, there were 515 walks issued to hitters in the 8th spot of the order in the NL. That ranks 5th behind 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th in the order. The overall OBP for 8-hitters in the NL is .311 which ranks 7th in the group. Further investigation to follow…

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      • Jason says:

        Don’t just look at the raw counting stats. The 515 walks issued to 8th spot guys represent 8.6% of their plate appearances. That puts them third, behind 4th spot (10.5%) and 3rd spot (9.7%). So on a per plate appearance basis, the only guys out-walking the 8th spot hitter are the two that should be your best.

        Howard, in all due respect, during this discussion I have not seen much acknowledgment from you regarding the importance of opportunity in a player’s value. You’ve cited Iannetta’s homers, runs, rbi, etc and their rankings based on raw totals. Is the problem with Iannetta his skill or his opportunities? And I think that’s where the Iannetta defenders are coming from.

        Prorated to 450 PA (HR, R, RBI)
        Iannetta 16, 53, 55
        Santana 18, 52, 54
        Weiters 14, 53, 50
        McCann 21, 50, 69
        Avila 15, 45, 69

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      • Howard Bender says:

        I think one of the biggest problems with the overall debate is that I’m talking about his fantasy production and value and others are speaking in terms of reality. There are plenty of players in history that have been spectacular in the real world, but are just mediocre in the fantasy game. It was my belief that RotoGraphs was for discussing fantasy value. A player’s WAR or wOBA may be good for scouting in the pre-draft phase, but if a player is stuck in the 8-hole of the order and there’s little chance of him getting improved opportunities to produce, then that affects his fantasy value, no? Who cares if Jim Tracy doesn’t appreciate Iannetta’s on-base numbers? The fact is that he doesn’t and will not move Iannetta up in the order thus hindering his ability to improve on his totals.

        I’m not saying that Iannetta is a bad player. I’m just saying that, based on his situation in Colorado, his production and fantasy value don’t warrant him to move up higher than the middle of the third tier in the rankings, a complaint I have heard on more than one occasion. I was using this piece as a way for people to explain why Iannetta should be such a coveted commodity in fantasy.

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      • byron says:

        Howard, you’re probably running into trouble as more and more of the Rotographs audience plays Ottoneu games, or adapts Fangraphs stat lessons (like OBP being better than AVG) into their own leagues. I’ve honestly never understood the point of a 5×5 centered blog hosted by a site that’s proven 3×3 of those stats less than ideal.

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  5. MH says:

    Isn’t it more of a “know what you’re buying” thing with Iannetta? You make it sound like you had to reach early and often to get him. Even in my most competitive league (12 team, two-catcher format), where I found catchers terribly overvalued (Carlos Santana went in the fourth, Soto in the sixth, Napoli soon after), I had to “reach” for Iannetta in the 17th or 18th. I wanted some cheap power with a touch of R/RBI upside. Buck (who went pretty soon after), Hernandez, and Avila may seem like better values right now, but that’s all hindsight. You might as well criticize guys who drafted Buster Posey. Buck’s skillset looked less stable and I wasn’t interested in taking a risk on JP Arencibia knowing his roto upside was pretty similar to Iannetta anyway. And even if they have been more roto productive, those guys are much more “guaranteed outs” than Iannetta and his .374 OBP. That’s not to say I necessarily expected Tracy to hit him higher in the lineup, but calling him a guy who makes outs frequently is exactly the kind of nonsense sites like Fangraphs are supposed to dispell, not purport. He probably should be hitting higher in the lineup. Maybe his walk rate would fall a bit if he didn’t have a pitcher behind him, but maybe seeing more strikes would yield a higher BABIP and HR total. Also, what catchers are you buying for their speed? No catcher not on the Yankees has more than 3 SB anyway. You make it sound as if buying a catcher who won’t steal at least 5 bases is making some sort of concession, when really getting a catcher who will even steal you 3+ bases is a pretty nice bonus and not something easily predicted unless you’re rostering Russell Martin or perhaps to a lesser extent Carlos Santana.

    I’m not trying to say Iannetta is any great shakes, just saying that for his draft position he was a solid, safe, predictable choice depending on how the earlier parts of your draft went and a perfectly acceptable low end option in single catcher formats or mid-range option in two-catcher formats.

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  6. hildebeast21 says:

    Who still participates in “standard” 5 X 5 leagues? I’ve joined dozens of pools with various groups of friends, work colleagues, etc… and I haven’t been in a standard 5 X 5 league in seven years.
    It’s difficult for me to understand why Rotographs still focuses on 5 X 5 leagues.
    I know you’re looking for a standard in order to rank players, but if you focus on wOBA, HR, R, RBI, SB, and K, and playing time, you should be able to provide enough breadth and scope to cover most “normal” leagues.

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    • magguu says:

      Um, lots and lots of people. Relying on your personal experience to make judgments about larger trends is not very FanGraphy of you.

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  7. Chris says:

    Personally I snagged Iannetta on a team with no real glaring holes (that is until everyone went on the DL and my season tanked) in the 4th round of a 7 round draft for my keeper league that does use OPS. Even then, I drafted him to supplement Napoli’s inconsistent playing time (though I’m forced to start both every day as the entirety of my team on the DL or waiting for a DL spot to free up).

    I’d say that Iannetta deserves much love from me. Late in a draft I was able to get a catcher with some pop and a decent OPS (and starting 5 games a week) who’s been healthy all year. I couldn’t have asked for more.

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  8. JR Ewing says:

    I agree that Iannetta’s overall numbers don’t and likely won’t be anything more than low-level starter in 1-catcher 5×5 leagues. However in leagues with deep benches his value comes in his splits. If you can afford to play him in Colorado and to avoid elite RHP, he can give you elite catcher stats for 40%-50% of games. Then when he’s away from home (except against poor LHP starters) or at home vs elite RHP, you can start another low-level catcher. Maybe your bench is deep enough that you have to carry two catchers. Or maybe if there’s no add/drop limits and you can add a second catcher for his road trips and then when Iannetta is at home drop the backup catcher for another hitter, a spot starter, or a MRP and continue rotating all season. This way you can get good production from your catcher spot without spending so much on McCann or VMart or Carlos Santana on draft day.

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  9. Mario Mendoza says:

    Iannetta’s BB% is “uber-inflated.”

    That’s one of the TTO! It’s not like a high BABIP.

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  10. Frank says:

    Really bad piece all around.

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  11. Jason says:

    Sure Iannetta’s low average would zap his value in standard fantasy leagues or whatever (I don’t play in any), but his strengths make him pretty sweet in APBA/SOM type games.

    Additionaly, some fans may not even care about fantasy type games and just want to see good players on the field. I’d rather see Iannetta bat than under-powered Torrealba or under-onbased Olivo.

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  12. Mark says:

    It seems to me that in a league that counts BBs or OBP, Iannetta has outperformed a number of catchers this year, including Arencibia, Soto, Napoli,and maybe Weiters. He has more runs than most of those guys, in the middle of pack HR-wise, a few RBIs behind the group, and a massive lead in BBs and OBP. Plus, he’s stolen a few bases – a bonus.

    So – he’s been adequate in terms of standard counting stats and then a huge asset at catcher for BB and OBP.

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  13. srriley84 says:

    For all the negatives of batting 8th, it does pump his OBP up a little. He’d undoubtedly be less of an OBP machine if he were batting higher in the order.

    I think he has something like a 16.25% walk rate batting 8th and a 14% walk rate for his career. Do the math…

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    • MH says:

      Not necessarily true. His Zone% is actually above the MLB average, so they’re not pitching him outside the zone more than they would other hitters (which surprised me a bit actually). There’s no data for the league average by pitch type, but you could actually make a case that his OBP might stay the same or even perhaps increase given the Zone% mark if he were higher in the lineup. He’s an above average fastball hitter (0.89 wFB/C career, 0.92 this year) and below average against everything else except the changeup (0.68 wCH/C career). If he had a hitter behind him, he might simply see a few more fastballs, which could yield a higher BABIP, even if he walks a tad less.

      It is worth noting though, the only year of his career than Iannetta had a below league average Zone% was 2008, when he had a .391 wOBA in 407 PAs (similar peripherals propped by a .264 AVG and .285 BABIP). This is a bit counterintuitive so its tough to say if there’s a relationship. He was also seeing even fewer fastballs than other years that year, but its probably too small a sample to draw significant conclusions.

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    • Jason says:

      career numbers:
      8th: .233/.368/.425 (15.7% walk rate)
      else: .233/.348/.437 (12.8%)

      As one would expect, he draws less walks without the pitcher behind him, but he appears to get more pitches to hit (ISO jumps .012).

      I think a lot of the Iannetta angst is that his rate stats are good for a catcher, but the counting stats are depressed by his spot in the lineup and the playing time issues. This year Tracy is playing Iannetta more, but that’s after two years of much less use.

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  14. benjipants says:

    I think MH is on the right track. Ianetta is no great shakes, but I overdrafyed Santana this season. Mauer and McCann went early, obviously. The better way to think of it is, ‘What’s the value of a 4th round pick (or 7th or whatever)+Ianetta in the 18th round vs Santana/Mauer/McCann and a 18th round whatever. Mike Stanton+Ianetta sounds better to me than McCann and Brian Matusz.
    I haven’t checked in a while but in my OPS league I don’t think there’s a catcher in the top 100.

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  15. James says:

    He’s only 22% owned in Yahoo leagues. That’s why some might consider him to be “the best kept secret.”

    Like you pointed out with his catcher rankings, he’s a top ten option in four out of the five traditional roto categories (more if you count BB/OBP/OPS) and available in almost 80% of Yahoo leagues. As it is, he’s ranked 12th among catchers in Yahoo, which makes him a viable starting catcher *That’s* the part, I think, that leads to all this “love” and recognition.

    I don’t think anyone has ever said he’s an elite option, but considering the state of catching, a viable starting catcher available in almost 80% of leagues *is* a “best kept secret”.

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  16. SteveL says:

    NL-only league
    OBP instead of BA
    Total bases instead of HR’s

    Ianetta is right there with Montero, and only behind McCann, in value. And I got him at a very good price.

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    • Jason B says:

      Obviously this was not aimed at leagues with stat categories that make him more conducive to being owned and having some real value.

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  17. srriley84 says:

    Another problem with him is it’s tough for owners to stick with him. His value hinges on the 15-20 bombs he’s going to hit. He’s not going to hit for average so you aren’t getting any 2/5 or 3/4 days with a couple of doubles or singles. You have to capture those 15-20 HRs. The only thing with that is he’s inevitably going to go through some droughts where he doesn’t go deep and puts up a sorry line. Owners need to have the patience to wait out such stretches.

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    • James says:

      Small sample size cautions apply, of course, but he’s got some pretty pronounced splits that’ll help you capture those homers. Check it out:

      2011 vs. LHP: .233/.410/.600
      2011 vs. RHP: .221/.360/.344
      Career vs. LHP: .251/.386/.523
      Career vs. RHP: .226/.346/.399

      2011 @ home: .293/.424/.569
      2011 @ road: .150/.321.243
      Career @ home: .257/.374/.489
      Career @ road: .208/.340/.375

      These easy-to-follow splits probably make him more suitable as a backup catcher than a starter, but you could do a lot worse than a catcher who’s gonna hit 15-20 homers and OPS over .800, especially with deflated offense in baseball right now.

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  18. Dandy Salderson says:

    I am not sure the gist of the article. I dont hear many calls for Iannetta to win MVP. Fact is, he has walks, power and a babip that implies room to go up. The point of this article seems to be: yes, he looks pretty good and better than average (slightly) but not SO MUCH better than average as some rankings may imply. Yawn.

    What would have been more interesting would have been to look at his futility vs RHP and his 150/321/243 road numbers to show that the improvement people expect is not a guarantee.

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  19. Nick says:

    I’ve always thought that Iannetta was vastly overrated in fantasy, until I looked up ESPN Standard League Draft Position.

    He was the 17th catcher drafted, on average, and is 13th on the Player Rater (5×5 linear averages, I believe). That piece of info alone should speak for itself, but then again, he was the last catcher drafted on average. The undrafted fellas who are outperforming him?:

    Avila (3rd on PR)
    Lucroy (10th)
    Pierzynski (12th)
    Hernandez (8th)
    Olivo (11th)

    Without the fluky steals, I’d wager a bet that Wilson Ramos (15th) would be outperforming him in a standard 5×5, and will no doubt do so when Pudge is traded at the deadline (if they can find a buyer).

    So the lesson is: don’t spend your 229th pick on Chris Ianetta, I guess.

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    • shamus says:

      I don’t know, it depends on how deep a bench you have. Ianetta is very useful if you’re platooning him with someone else so the 229th pick in a 12-team league is still fairly good. I would definitely start him at home or against a lefty if I had like 12 lineup spots to fill and a large-ish bench to stash him on.

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  20. Pico Pita says:

    So now it looks like Iannetta is being benched more for Eliezer Alfonso, a 32-year old minor leaguer. Manager said (essentially) it is because he likes Eliezer’s aggressive approach. Yep, this manager could give a crap that Iannetta ranks top 10 for catchers in all advanced metrics. Nope, this moron still judges hitters by batting average and aggressiveness.

    We can only hope that Iannetta is traded to a team that will maximize his value to their club. The Rockies are clueless.

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    • shamus says:

      Napoli’s been freed, maybe Ianetta is next. Of course then his road splits would come into play, but I would certainly hope someone can eventually use him to his full potential.

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  21. Coors Anyone? says:

    In terms of value, where he was drafted vs the production he provides has been appreciated by many. He’s comparable to other top 10 C and yet was a steal to acquire/draft.

    But how many in here start him every game? I’d venture to say not many. I for one participate in a larger bench league. With Napoli and Iannetta, I’m able to work their platoon splits to form the best catcher in the league in my humble, biased, SSS opinion. But seriously, who would start Iannetta away from home? PRO-TIP: Only start Iannetta at home.

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  22. Jagfire says:

    In the NL, batters have a .320 OBP. Batters hitting 8th in the NL have a .310 OBP. It doesn’t seem there’s statistical support for the 8th batter having an inflated OBP because of his spot.

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