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Iannetta, Hernandez: Catchers On The Move

We’ve seen many catchers already changing teams this off-season. Most of the moves have been of little consequence to the fantasy owner, as backstops John Jaso, Gerald Laird, Jose Molina, Rod Barajas and Taylor Teagarden are not men of great social or political import. The Angels and Rockies set out to change that this past Wednesday.

New Angels General Manager Jerry DiPoto, obviously not a fan of the “offense” Jeff Mathis had been providing the team, dealt starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood to Colorado for Chris Iannetta. He never seemed to have the backing of the Rockies’ front office – his name always swirled in trade rumors – or manager Jim Tracy. His low contact rates will keep him from hitting for a good average but the 15-20 home run power and excellent plate discipline more than make up for it. The 28-year-old hit .238/.370/.414 with 14 home runs, 55 runs batted in and even added six steals in 426 plate appearances last season.

To compare, the Angels trio of catchers combined to hit .190/.253/.301 with 10 home runs, 49 runs batted in and one steal in 605 plate appearances. You almost have to try to be that bad. Iannetta has benefited from playing in Colorado where his career .869 OPS is excellent, but his road total of .707 is still good relative to his position. His power numbers may dip a bit in pitcher friendly Anaheim but given ~400 plate appearances he should continue to be among the top half of fantasy catchers next season.

To replace Iannetta the Rockies signed veteran Ramon Hernandez. The soon to be 36-year-old hasn’t collected more than 352 plate appearances since 2008 – catching is hard, ya know? – but has hit well in the time he’s been allotted. Over the past two seasons Hernandez’s .790 OPS ranks 10th among all catchers with at least 650 plate appearances. He doesn’t hit for the power he once did but his contact rate has remained steady over the years. I mentioned that Iannetta had been helped by his home park but he pales in comparison to Hernandez. Playing in Cincinnati’s bandbox the past three seasons Hernandez had an average OPS of .854 compared to .680 on the road. He certainly made a smart decision moving to Coors Field.

The main drawback with Hernandez is his age. He turns 36 in May, and after a hot start to last season that saw him hit .322/.377/.539 with 10 home runs before the all-star break he tumbled down hill the rest of the way hitting just .220/.287/.305. His skills are declining, maybe not as much as his second half would indicate but declining nonetheless. Playing in Coors should mask some of his inabilities, and he’ll likely get more playing time than young Wilin Rosario, but don’t set your expectations too high for 2012.