Heading into the 2010 season, the Rockies must have had some doubts about Chris Iannetta, as the club announced from the get go that he and the guy they signed one year ago today would be splitting the starting catching duties to begin the season. What the club probably didn't know is that the man would end up being one of the most prolific offensive catchers in baseball during the first half of the season.
Miguel Olivo signed a one-year deal with Colorado on January 4th, 2010 and at the time, was considered a decent signing - especially to serve as a backup catcher after being Kansas City's starter throughout 2009 and eclipsing the 20 home run mark in that same season. However, in Spring Training Jim Tracy liked what he saw in Olivo (or disliked what he saw in Iannetta) enough to declare that the players would be sharing time at the outset of the season.
Iannetta got the nod for the season's first two games, but went 0-for-6 with a couple of walks and, true to his word, Tracy went with Olivo for the series finale. He did not disappoint, as he walked and homered in a game the Rockies would eventually lose. His hot start would continue throughout April, conciding with the faltering of Iannetta, as he posted a .933 OPS with five homers in the season's first month. May saw even more success, as Miguel bumped his slash line to .308/.370/.562, and was arguably the Rockies' best offensive player at that point (Troy Tulowitzki didn't have the slugging numbers, and Carlos Gonzalez didn't get really hot until June and only drew 8 walks in April and May).
June and July saw continued success for Olivo, who showed remarkable consistency with his numbers during the two previous months, leaving his overall line at .308/.368/.540 over 297 plate appearances. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Olivo's offensive output was that he had walked 23 times. While that doesn't seem like a large number (and it really isn't), his career high for a full season through 2009 was 20 in 2004. With seemingly improved plate discipline, one would believe that Olivo was primed for a very good year - terrific, in fact, when considering the position he plays - as he only needed to continue his performance for another two months. However, there was one large warning sign: Olivo's BABIP sat at .383 overall, and was astronomically high (.411) in June/July.
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To break it down, Miguel posted a way-above-average .306/.359/.526 line through July, with 21 unintentional walks. In August and September, as he wore down, the line dropped to .190/.215/.286, with just ONE unintenional pass. Luckily for the Rockies, they received huge production out of their two superstars mentioned above, so they were able to take the hit that they weren't able to take during the first half of the season (as they still finished 20-18 during the time of Olivo's faceplant). However, it is almost safe to say that had Olivo continued his solid production into August and September, the Rockies might have been playing postseason baseball.
In summary, Olivo did a good job of holding down the fort while Chris Iannetta tried to find his way, despite ending up as a slightly below-average offensive player (but definitely better than that for his position). In addition, he posted way better caught-stealing numbers (42%) than any Rockies catcher had over the past few seasons - not to mention the fact that he was Ubaldo Jimenez's "exclusive" catcher, and we all know how that guy turned out. He did, however, lead the league in passed balls for the fourth time in five seasons.
Grade: B. Some of you may think that's a little high, but the performance needs to be weighed against the expectations. Also, he would have been an A (or even A+, for those who believe such a thing exists) had his last two months been anywhere near his first four.
After the season, the Rockies traded Olivo to the Blue Jays for a player to be named later and/or cash considerations, and the Jays declined his option shortly thereafter. Miguel then signed a two-year deal with Seattle on December 9th, and will likely be their starting backstop in 2011. The Rockies, meanwhile, have committed to Iannetta as their starting catcher for 2011, but the backup situation is a bit of a mess at the moment, as Andrew Fisher wrote about earlier.