Now that Chris Iannetta is a full season removed from the afterglow of simply not being Jeff Mathis, can he continue to prove that he is a worthy of his new contract and being the Angels' full-time catcher?
2012 Stats: 253 PA, .240 AVG, .332 OBP, .398 SLG, 27 R, 9 HR, 26 RBI, 1 SB, 3 CS, 60 K, .323 wOBA, 107 OPS+, 1.3 fWAR
2013 ZiPS Projections: 333 PA, .224 AVG, .334 OBP, .384 SLG, 33 R, 11 HR, 37 RBI, 2 SB, 2 CS, 80 K, .314 wOBA, 103 OPS+, 1.8 fWAR
2013 Bill James Projections: 430 PA, .240 AVG, .352 OBP, .426 SLG, 49 R, 16 HR, 55 RBI, 2 SB, 2 CS, 99 K, .339 wOBA
2013 CAIRO Projections: 363 PA, .218 AVG, .320 OBP, .365 SLG, 45 R, 10 HR, 41 RBI, 3 SB, 2 CS, 78 K, .308 wOBA
2013 MWAH Projections*: 425 PA, .253 AVG, .336 OBP, .413 SLG, 44 R, 12 HR, 48 RBI, 2 SB, 2 CS, 95 K, .331 wOBA
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA calculation is approximate)
2012 in Objective Review:
Iannetta was a success from the second he was acquired last off-season in that he wasn't Jeff Mathis. But it turned out that he was a success on the field too. He quickly gained Mike Scioscia's vote of confidence with his defense, which is huge considering that one of the reasons the Rockies were ready to part with Chris was their displeasure with his glovework. But Chris also finally brought some offense to the position, posting an OPS over .800 in April and August, the two months sandwiched around the time he missed with a fractured forearm that he suffered while catching Jered Weaver's no-hitter. Iannetta's offense dropped off sharply the final month of the season to a .612 OPS in September, but that could be attributable to Chris having to start 47 of the team's final 58 games and simply wearing down.
2012 in Revisionist History:
One of the biggest questions facing Iannetta when he arrived in Anaheim was whether or not he could hit outside of Coors Field. It turns out he can, yay! However, it turns out he might not be able to hit in the Big A, where he posted a Mathisian .602 OPS. Ah, but sample sizes are a factor here. His season of 253 plate appearances, 131 of which came at home, is hardly enough to draw a conclusion, though it does at least provide a healthy amount of hope that his offense wasn't strictly a product of the altitude. One could even argue that his numbers would've been even better if he hadn't hurt himself as it did appear that his forearm issues lingered for a bit even after he returned, which cost him some pop. For example, he didn't hit a double until September after he was activated from the DL in late-July, though he did hit four homers, which is weird.
He also answered the doubts about his defensive prowess, finishing 20th in Matt Klaasen's catcher defense rankings. He's no star, obviously, but he did finally give the position some stability for what seems like the first time since the days of Bengie Molina, which is why he was rewarded with a three-year, $15.55 million contract.
Three Lingering Questions for 2013:
1) Can Iannetta stay healthy?
History suggests the answer is no, but he doesn't have any chronic injury issues other than being a catcher. That wrist injury last year scares me though because while it was just him getting hit by a foul tip, wrist injuries have a way of lingering and/or recurring in baseball and we already saw how many setback Iannetta had trying to come back from the injury last season.
2) Could Iannetta lose playing time to Hank Conger?
Other than for injury time, of course. This will be an interesting situation to monitor because it is clear that Conger has to earn Scioscia's trust still, but it isn't like Iannetta is a defensive wizard himself. At the same time, Iannetta seemed to wear down fast when he was catching almost every game the final two months of the season. Given the durability issues, Chris might have to give way to Conger more than we'd think and that runs the risk of Conger actually realizing his potential finally and forcing his way into more of a timeshare situation. I doubt it will happen, but it isn't hard to imagine the potential path.
3) Did the Angels make a smart decision signing him to his new contract?
I don't see much of an argument against this other than maybe the length. Iannetta seems to be passed his inconsistency issues from his earlier days in Colorado and proved that he can be productive at a sea level. His new contract pays him at the rate of a guy who produces just above one win per year. That is exactly what he produced last season and that was with him missing nearly two months. As such, it is hard to envision him not earning his salary with relative ease so long as he stays decently healthy. Of course, if you don't think he can stay healthy, then the three-year commitment could be regrettable, though hardly a backbreaker.
Three Irrelevant Questions for 2013:
1) Is he going to continue hitting eighth just because he is a catcher?
Probably, that is what Scioscia does. In fact, Iannetta mostly hit ninth last season even when his bat was scorching hot in Augus, but I imagine Iannetta will bat eighth now that Bourjos is going to be in the lineup everyday. For whatever reason, Scioscia just can't help but bat catchers eighth, no matter who they are. With his on-base skills and decent pop, Iannetta really should be hitting higher in the order, but I wouldn't hold my breath for that to happen.
2) He's still not Jeff Mathis, right?
3) Are you sure?
Yes. Don't worry. It is safe now. The nightmare is finally over. He isn't coming back.
2013 in Subjective Projection:
As the projections all indicate, there isn't much faith in Iannetta ever being able to hit for average, but plenty of faith in him posting a nice OBP. The faith in him playing a lot of games is middling, though I clearly think he will play a lot. That's less a vote of confidence in his ability and durability so much as a hunch that Mike Scioscia is going to be loath to play Hank Conger very much. What I am curious to see with Iannetta though is if his power might not blossom a bit. I referenced that ugly home-road split before and in it is the oddity that at home, Iannetta was had a Callaspo-like .096 ISO whereas he crushed the ball on the road to the tune of a Trumbo-like .226. There is power there, I just don't know if he can sustain it since he posted pretty pathetic power numbers on the road in 2010 and 2011, but very good numbers in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Maybe the answer is just that he's very streaky and inconsistent. In fact, I'm almost certain that is the answer which is why I expect that his numbers will settle in right around where they have been for his career.