In the year 2011: Chris Iannetta is > Miguel Olivo

Colorado Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta watches his three-run home run during the second inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Coors Field on September 2, 2010 in Denver. The Phillies lead the NL Wild Card race.   UPI/Gary C. Caskey Photo via Newscom
Miguel Olivo, a season after hitting a career high 23 home runs, helped fantasy GM’s as a cheap draft day or free agent option in 2010 hitting .325/.377/.548 with 11 home runs and 42 RBI pre-all-star break. Olivo struggled post-all-star break, hitting only .193/.225/.313 with three home runs and 16 RBI. His final line on the season (.269/.315/.449, 14 HR, 58 RBI) was still of value to fantasy owners and ranked him seventh on ESPN’s Player Rater for catchers.

Olivo’s backup, Chris Iannetta, had some upside coming into the season, but struggled early and was demoted to triple-A before long. Iannetta ended up with only 188 at-bats with the Rockies in 2010, putting up a .197/.318/.383 line with nine home runs. 

While Olivo was far and away the better fantasy catcher in 2010, I’d be willing to bet that Chris Iannetta is the better value in 2011.

The Rockies recently traded Miguel Olivo and his $2.5MM option the Blue Jays for cash considerations or a player to be named later. The Jays soon thereafter declined Olivo’s option, making him a free agent. This move not only puts Olivo out of a job, but gives Iannetta the chance to be earn the majority of time behind the plate in Colorado.

It seems like fantasy GM’s have been waiting on Chris Iannetta to come around for years now. In fact, that is exactly the case. Back in 2008, Iannetta hit .264/.390/.505 with 18 home runs in 333 at-bats. His 18.5 AB/HR rate that season was only about two AB/HR better than his 2010 AB/HR rate. Iannetta hit one a home run once every 18 at-bats in 2009 as well. Clearly, the 20-plus home run potential is in place, but will his AVG catch up? Does it need to?

In the past three seasons, no catcher has hit over 28 home runs — no catcher has hit over 30 homers since 2003 — and only four catchers hit 20 or more in 2010 (Mike Napoli, Brian McCann, Victor Martinez and John Buck).

In Miguel Olivo’s case, his 2010 AVG was highly inflated by a .346 BABIP — his career average BABIP is .302. Olivo has some of the worst plate discipline in the majors, swinging at pitches outside the strike-zone over 40 percent of the time and whiffing on pitches almost 34 percent of the time. The chances of him repeating his ultra hot first half are slim. It is much more likely that Olivo’s AVG will revert to around his career mark of .246 and that he won’t hit as many home runs as he did in 2009 (23) as that is looking like the outlier of his career home run totals.

Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos was wise to this. Keeping Olivo was never in his plans. Instead, the Jays will receive a supplemental pick in the upcoming amateur draft should another team sign Olivo. 

If Iannetta, who has good plate discipline (career 13.1 percent walk rate) and makes good contact for a power hitter (77 percent contact rate), can hit a few more line drives in 2011, his AVG will be good enough to turn him into a top 10 fantasy catcher, assuming his consistent power output remains consistent.

Much like the Rockies front office has done, fantasy GM’s need to keep the faith on the powerful Chris Iannetta and forget about the hacking Miguel Olivo.