Chris Iannetta, the catcher that everyone has a reason to gripe about. Appreciate catcher defense? Then you won't like Iannetta. Still value batting average over OBP? Then you won't like Iannetta. Well, maybe 2014 will be the year we can all learn to love the man tenuously atop the Angels catching depth chart.
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA calculation is approximate because my math skills are only "meh")
What happened in 2013?
It was kind of a weird season for Iannetta. Offensively, it was all peaks and valleys. That's not totally abnormal for him though. What was abnormal was the way they manifested themselves. For example, Iannetta couldn't buy a hit in June and July, hitting .178 over those two months. However, he also drew an absurd number of bases on balls those two month, walking 18% of the time. That's pretty impressive by itself, but even more impressive given that he was having such a hard time just making contact.
Those offensive ups and downs helped open the door to Hank Conger stealing playing time. What really hurt though was his defense. Iannetta once again ranked towards the very bottom of the league in terms of pitch framing, but really seemed to cost him Scioscia's trust was his inability to throw out baserunners. He finished the season nabbing just 19.2% of basestealers, but there was a period where that percentage was much lower. That wasn't entirely Iannetta's fault as the pitchers he was working with were doing a poor job of holding runners and getting the ball home quickly, but it still managed to drive Scioscia nuts.
By the end of the year, Iannetta's offensive started to trend upwards. Iannetta claims that he started using contact lenses, allowing him to see the ball slightly better. It might have had a lot more to do with the fact that Iannetta had fallen into a platoon with Conger by that point, meaning he was facing more left-handed pitching than normal.
What do the projections think he will do in 2014?
The projections for Iannetta are all so close it is scary. His wOBA projections range from .312 to .318. He's going to hit around .220, walk around 14.5% of the time, strike out in 25% of plate appearances and post a .145-ish ISO. It is basically what he did last year, only with fewer walks.
The only notable thing about the projections is that they all anticipate him playing less (except Olive which doesn't have playing time factored in). Whether or not the systems see Conger as a threat or take into account his injury history is not clear to me, but it rings true either way.
Does the Monkey agree or disagree?
Quite obviously I disagree. My projections are just so much higher across the board. There is a good chance I am going to end up looking foolish, but I have my reasons.
The main reason is that I think Iannetta is going to remain in a fairly strict platoon with Hank Conger. That means Iannetta is going to face a lot of lefties and he has mashed versus lefties in his career with a .251/.385/.484 slash line. That alone should allow him to improve on his number from 2013. I think the contact lens reasoning is a bit of a cop out, but if he thinks they help him hit better, I'll at least assume that the confidence it gives him will help.
What are the known unknowns?
My biggest worry with Iannetta is that he can't hit changeups and the league might've figured that out. He saw 185 changeups last season, swung at 87 of them and whiffed on 49 of those swings. That's 56%! He has never handled those pitches well, but he saw the percentage of changeups thrown to him go up from about 7% the last two years to 10.6%. That's not a good trend but how much more can he really be exploited by that pitch?
The other wild card with Iannetta is his playing time. I'm guessing at a strict platoon, but really I have no idea because Scioscia makes so little sense with the way he handles his catchers. Conger was held back for years because of his defense despite being a very good receiver, but the advanced metrics make it pretty clear that Iannetta is a terrible pitch framer and at best an average pitch blocker. That somehow never got him into Scioscia's doghouse, but his throwing woes did. One would hope Scioscia would wise up to all of this information, but there is just no telling. Iannatta could catch 125 games, he could catch 50. It is all on the table.