Chris Iannetta: Fantasy Post-Hype Sleeper or Bust?

by Eno Sarris

We close out our post-hype infield with Colorado Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta. Just to recap, that was Chris Davis at first base, Rickie Weeks at second base, Stephen Drew at shortstop, and Alex Gordon at third base.
As I mentioned before, this is not a strategy to try at home. I was
hoping to find one or two good, young and cost-controlled infielders in
a league with contracts and 15 keepers, so I had to try something. (Gotta love Weeks’ huge first week.)

Iannetta presents a mixed bag of positive and negative indicators. Yes, he has a slightly worrisome fellow backstop in Miguel Olivo. But Olivo has established himself as a prolific outmaker throughout his career.
As evidence that the team still believes in their young catcher, the Rockies gave Iannetta a three-year contract in January.

Iannetta came tearing through
the Rockies’ minor league system and has held the Catcher of the Future
title there for a while now. An accomplished college catcher that was around average age at each level of the minor leagues, his .303/.409/.511 career
line there was still impressive. After struggling to hit for power or
batting average in his first two attempts at the majors, he
IannettaGrab3.jpg

had a breakout 2008, hitting .264/.390/.505 with 18 home runs in
407 plate appearances. So, in fact, Iannetta has already been a
post-hype sleeper before and come through with a great year. Now, after
a less impressive .228/.344/.460 and just 350 PAs last season, he’s once again
undervalued. Take a look at the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tool, which shows how cheap he is compared to other possible top-10 catchers this year – increasing the likelihood that he could be available on the waiver wire in your shallow league.

So
what changed in 2009? Why did Iannetta’s batting average suddenly plunge the year after establishing himself? Once again, the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tool,
with some recently added stats, gives us great insight into his 2009
struggles. As you can see from this screen shot, Iannetta suffered from
terrible luck on the balls in play last year. He walked with about the same
frequency as he did the year before, struck out a little less, had a similar
isolated slugging percentage (.241 in 2008, .232 in 2009) and looked
like the same hitter in general. However, he had a .245 batting average
on balls in play (BABIP) in 2009, and his career number in that
category is .283.

IannettaGrab2.jpg
Even though BABIP holds steady around .300 across all of baseball, each player has their own true level. Ichiro Suzuki‘s
BABIP (.357) is a great example of this. Using a players’ batted ball
profile and speed, however, we can estimate a player’s BABIP.
Iannetta’s xBABIP last year? .303. It seems that Iannetta had some
rotten luck last year.

Given that Iannetta held his power
steady in both 2008 and 2009, and showed the same control of the strike
zone both years, it seems to follow that he can put in another campaign
that looks like 2008, once the BABIP normalizes. With an
acceptable batting average (for a catcher, a position where the average
line was .253/.320/.394 last year), fantasy owners will benefit from
getting his above-average power cheaply.

And yet, there’s that pesky timeshare. If you’re an optimist, though, you can look at the current situation this way: Iannetta’s lack of playing time means he might not be owned in many shallow leagues. So if you’re a Miguel Montero owner and you’re looking for a replacement at catcher, don’t chase first-week stats by proven mediocrities like Rod Barajas. Take a shot on someone with real upside. Someone like Chris Iannetta.

For more information on Chris Iannetta and other underrated catchers this year, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit for yourself.

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