About 36 hours ago, the Rockies announced that they were signing Free Agent Catcher Ramon Hernandez to a 2-year, $6.5M deal.
Normally, this news would excite me, as I've quietly had an eye on him for the past few years, since I picked him up in fantasy baseball in 2006. I'd have been more excited about it had the next announcement not been all but guaranteed: Chris Iannetta to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for a young starter named Tyler Chatwood.
Years ago, when I started writing for Purple Row, I had my little weekly column called Counting Rocks. It's since been mothballed, but wrote a few novels in there. Well, they probably looked more like bank ledgers, but you see my point. The first article I wrote for that Counting Rocks series was about Chris Iannetta, and how the Catcher of the Future had finally arrived. The article was written in Spring of 2009, after Iannetta had posted his breakout season for the Rockies, batting .264/.390/.505 with 18 bombs over 104 games.
At this point, most people were at least content with the idea of Iannetta. I was thrilled. Ecstatic. It was one of the best offensive seasons the Rockies had from a catcher since Jeff Reed batted .297 in 1997.
Not too long after that, Iannetta hit a 2-month snag and lost his job to a suddenly scorching hot Yorvit Torrealba. Torrealba batted .341 in August and .310 in September of '09 while the Rockies went ahead and won their 3rd franchise playoff berth. I was livid. Other people also felt Iannetta was getting robbed of all the postseason starts, as he is a lefty masher and Philadelphia threw their lefty brigade against Colorado.
Thus began the great Catching Wars of 2009. It should be Iannetta! No, Torrealba is hotter! No, Iannetta! Torrealba!
Suddenly, Huston Street gave up a double to Ryan Howard and a bloop single to Jayson Werth and the Rockies were done for.
"If Iannetta had started, the Rockies might have made it further."
Thus continued the Catching Wars of 2009.
Later that offseason, Miguel Olivo was signed to a 1 year contract with an option on 2011. I figured the Rockies had finally gotten a backup who wouldn't play like crap for the majority of the season and then get inexplicably hot down the stretch and take Iannetta's job.
Thus began yet another argument over whether or not Chris Iannetta was actually worth a damn.
At some point though, I had to stop and step back. If you were around between the 09-10 seasons, you remember how nasty those arguments were. What on earth was so special about Chris Iannetta that would make it not seem absurd to have such dragged-out screaming matches about him? He isn't a very exciting player (barring a few isolated incidents), he doesn't hit for super high average, he's not a Molina, so what's the deal?
I guess the thing that really got me going about Iannetta was the fact that he was one of the first "Moneyball" style players the Rockies had around. Not that they signed him as a Scott Hatteberg type out of free agency, but more that we had a guy who could post a really solid OBP without having to hit for really solid average. Being able to work a count, foul off pitches, and take a walk if a hit wasn't available and not waste an out - something about that appealed to me.
Or maybe it wasn't that Iannetta was the Moneyball guy I was waiting for. Maybe it was the fact that I'd just recently decided to bury myself in increasingly advanced stats: focusing on OPS, valuing the walk, finding ways to mathematically optimize a baseball team. Having gone to an engineering school and getting a MS in Operations Research, this particular method of analysis made sense to me. With this new toolset equipped, I was ready to take on anybody claiming a player was bad because of bad batting average, and the perfect player had emerged for me to defend.
Whichever statistical revelation it was, Iannetta became my personal representation of a model player for the stat guy: good OBP, good SLG, all while posting a surprisingly low batting average (just to defy conventional wisdom). The OPS justifies the AVG, right? Anyone disagreeing with Iannetta's batting prowess is just trying to attack stat guys, clearly. It became more than just "Oh hey, the better player should play," because what defined "better"? Any reason Iannetta wasn't playing became another vendetta from manager Jim Tracy and an underappreciation of stats. It eventually made it hard to separate the argument about the player from the argument about the method of evaluation.
At the end of the 2010 season, I posted an article for Counting Rocks, one that proclaimed Chris Iannetta to be done for. It wasn't because of injury, or unsalvageably bad performances, but because something about the way he fit with the team didn't seem to work anymore. Whenever Iannetta would hit a cold spot, his backup would catch fire, taking the job and never giving it back. He'd perpetually be batted 8th behind worse hitters, regardless of splits or matchups, while other catchers seemed to be liberally sprinkled throughout the lineup. Add in that Iannetta's from New England and apparently that means you're disqualified from catching young Latin pitchers.
At this point, I was advocating trading Iannetta. At the time, I didn't even care if Iannetta leaving hurt the team (and 2011 showed us that it didn't even matter), I just wanted him to go play somewhere he'd be appreciated, played regularly, and not given a leash so short it sat you for 3 games after an 0-fer performance. I just wanted to go see him do well somewhere else just so I could turn and spit it straight into the face of the detractors: "SEE? If they just PLAYED him, they'd SEE that he's a good batter!" Part of me is still there. If Iannetta inexplicably posts a .900 OPS season with the Angels, I might just burst a blood vessel in my forehead.
No, honestly, I've been ready for this for a year now. I've been convinced that Iannetta is a good baseball player, and that if the Rockies don't see that, then that's their fault. I'm sick to death or arguing about it.
One of the biggest areas of subjectivity for me has been the overly defensive stance in evaluating the guy. As I mentioned above, Iannetta became the representation of my stat-heavy evaluative methodology. Part of that defensive mindset was constantly feeling like Iannetta was undervalued in the organization.
If you read through the comments yesterday, I'm not terribly thrilled with the return for Iannetta. Yes, Tyler Chatwood is young and all that, but I'm just not very excited about him. I don't see him being a very positive influence on the rotation. Just... not a great return. This is mostly opinion, as I wouldn't stand on any kind of statistical evaluation on Chatwood given the sample and his age and rush through the minors.
It just seems a fitting way to go for Iannetta, traded for a guy I find statistically unimpressive. It just adds up: the fact that his name was nailed to the 8 spot while Eliezer Alfonzo batted cleanup; the willingness to let Olivo keep trying to pull himself out of his late-season funk while Iannetta seemingly had a super short leash; getting traded for an underwhelming player. Chris Iannetta and the Colorado Rockies, everybody: an exploration in how to not see a productive baseball player.
I guess it was just time. Iannetta never seemed to fit with this club. Always fighting to prove himself, always under the microscope every offseason ("We believe in Iannetta, so we're going to continue making concessions for him"), but he'd also always seem to find a way to screw up being in even short term good graces.
I don't know. I'm rambling at this point. It's tough to try and find a way to "eulogize" your favorite player when you just feel like you've said everything that could be said 100 times over.
I remember watching him catching in the WBC in Toronto with Brian McCann.
I remember watching him and Tulo come up in 2006 and thinking what an awesome couple of players they were gonna be.
I specifically remember watching one AB in September '06 where Iannetta must have wasted 12 pitches whether by Ball or by Foul - he just kept slicing them down the line into the crowd. That's actually when he first caught my eye.
I remember getting shot down for him signing my WBC jersey on photo day (they weren't supposed to sign anything anyhow. Oops).
I remember reading a Sports Illustrated article on how Javy Lopez and Wade Boggs gave him some early-career pointers back in '06.
I remember being at a softball game and while at bat, the umpire told me that Iannetta had hit a walkoff against the Mets.
I remember when we here at Purple Row nicknamed him Doom, Dreamy, and DestructoBeam simultaneously, because Domenic just wasn't interesting enough.
Chris Iannetta brought a unique skillset to the table, and a controversial one at that. He was a polarizing figure, just based on that skillset. I'm going to miss him. I've had my wagon hitched to him for so long, I just don't know what I'll do without him to stick up for. Either way though, I hope he does well for the Angels, even if it's only so I can quietly and smugly grin.
Farewell, Chris Iannetta. Even though you started over 90 games 3 different times in your career, I'll still feel like we hardly knew you.