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2010 Rockies Player Review: Chris Iannetta

Another year gone by, and another year that Chris Iannetta hasn't lived up to his billing. When Miguel Olivo was brought in to reinforce the backup position, Iannetta started the season in the pits, with an April batting line of .133/.235/.333, good for an OPS of .569, wOBA of .243, and a wRC+ of 39, and Olivo tore right out of the gates like a bull trying to shake a rider off of his back, batting .291/.333/.600, .933 OPS, .399 wOBA, and a 144 wRC+.

Iannetta was soon demoted to Colorado Springs to get regular playing time (as there is no way you bench a batter as hot as Olivo was). Iannetta destroyed AAA, batting .349/.447/.698, and was called back up in June and posted a healthy .265/.405/.441 line in 42PA. Olivo remained the starter for the remainder of the season, due in part to the faith he had earned from manager Jim Tracy and in part to a late-season calf strain sustained by Iannetta.

This isn't to say that Iannetta never got another shot at the starting role. In August, Olivo absolutely hit the skids, batting a measly .140/.155/.158, but Iannetta found himself mired in a simultaneous slump to the tune of .163/.288/.186., basically making a complete black hole in the catchers' spot in the lineup.

Iannetta finished the season at a paltry .197/.318/.383 mark, good for a .314 wOBA (87 wRC+).

Purple Row touched on Iannetta's decline back in September, so there's a lot more information there than this article will cover.

Click past the jump for more.

Now, before I go any farther with this article, I'm going to warn you, it's a BABIP analysis. For some, this is an exploration into the statistical randomness of the batted ball and how it can make or break a hitter. For others, it's stat guys making excuses for their SABR golden boy and why he sucks. So if you fall into the former category, read on. If you fall into the latter, well, give it a shot anyhow. You might learn something new.

So if you read into the link before the jump, you saw the documentation of Iannetta's plummeting batting average, BABIP, and LD%. Because LD% and BABIP are so strongly linked, it's seemingly obvious that Iannetta is circling the drain. I'm not so convinced of that.

Sometimes a player just gets unlucky. Sometimes a player is forced up constantly against teams with phenomenal defenses or a park that suppresses any and all offensive efforts. Anyone could make that case for a player who had a bad season. What about 2 straight bad seasons? Could you make that case? Normally, someone making that claim gets laughed at, and typically, I'd agree with the laughing. For the sake of argument, however, I'm going to try and make that case for Chris Iannetta. Yes, I know, my bias is showing.

Typically, when a player comes up, has one great season, and then drops off past that, people will write him off as just a flash in the pan. It's the story of countless baseball players. But often enough, these players that fall off and never make it back see an entire collapse of their game. They walk less, hit for less power along with a poor batting average.

As specious of a statistic to judge a player by as batting average is, the issue is that declining batting average can't just be ignored, because AVG fuels OBP and SLG. If Iannetta can't pull that average up, he's doomed. This is why I tend to look at ISOP (SLG-AVG) and ISOD (OBP-AVG) to try and get a handle on what's going on with the player's skillsets. Check out Iannetta's ISOP the past 3 years:

2008 ISOP: .241

2009 ISOP: .232

2010 ISOP: .186

So there's definitely a power dropoff from 2009-2010 (and yeah, from 2008-2009 but that was so small it's hardly worth noticing). These numbers tell me that for the most part, he's still hitting for good power. If you compare his AVG and OBP and get is ISOD (Isolated Discipline), I bet you'll find those numbers are pretty consistent from 2008-2010.

For what it's worth, based on Iannetta's LD%, strikeouts, groundballs, etc etc, his expected BABIP would've been .320, had everything gone right. The reality is that it was .212. I'm not saying his awful 2010 was all bad luck, but there's a chance a good chunk of it was.

Typically when you look at a BABIP discrepancy, you also look at LD%. Low BABIP suggests bad luck (esp if a batter is walking and hitting for similar power), but a low LD% suggests that he's hitting too many in the air or what have you.

Iannetta's 2010 line was .197/.318/.383, good for a .701 OPS. If we adjust his BABIP up to his xBABIP of .320, hypothetically assuming that all of those singles dropped (even though it's likely some of them were XBH), we could be looking at a .273/.382/.459 line, .843 OPS. (Just for kicks, if Iannetta's 2009 BABIP matched his .306 xBABIP, we'd be looking at .272/.379/.504, .883.)

One quick note on xBABIP. I'm slowly coming to the point where I think that a player's career xBABIP should be used for your standard BABIP analysis. Reason being is that in a short sample of a player's career, one (or in Iannetta's case, 2) season with a complete aberration to a career BABIP can throw the career line off. BABIP analyses are based on the "what happened" vs the "what should've happened" kind of numbers, so if we're going to make the first step and look at career BABIP, why not look at the next step with xBABIP?

Just to wrap this up, I want to make this abundantly clear: I am not, am Not, am NOT saying that Iannetta's "true" line is that .864 OPS. I'm not saying that he should be treated as a guy who's performing excellently and just missing all of the breaks. I WILL say that Iannetta's miserable 2010 was part miserable luck and part him just not being able to get into the swing of sporadic playing time. He did some things right, such as cutting the flyballs down and making more contact. He did some things wrong, like swinging at more crap outside of the strike zone.

But love him or hate him, I get the feeling that there's something to be said for the xBABIP analysis, given Iannetta's contract and the organization's continued faith in him. Or maybe they're just afraid to admit they put trust in the wrong guy. I'd like to lean toward the former.