The Coors Effect

April 25, 2010 10:44 PM

The catching conundrum: No, Miguel Olivo isn't this good

Entering the 2010 season, the Rockies had two catchers on the active roster: incumbent Chris Iannetta, who struggled in 2009 and ceded most of the late-season starts to Yorvit Torrealba; and Miguel Olivo, acquired as a free agent in the offseason after he'd spent the last two seasons with the Royals.  It was clear from the start of the season that Olivo was going to start more often than your typical backup catcher.

Fast forward three weeks into the regular season, and Olivo is starting on a regular basis.  He's batting .317 and slugging .707.  He's now homered in each of his last three games, and has five on the season.  He started three of four games in the series against the Nationals, and two of three in the weekend series against the Marlins.  Meanwhile, Iannetta is struggling; in 30 at bats this season he has four hits.  So Olivo's going to be starting for a while, right?

Well... I suppose the second part of the headline should read, "and Chris Iannetta isn't this bad."  Jim Tracy is going to ride Olivo as long as he's hot, because he has no reason not to.  Except that Iannetta still needs to get regular at bats.  Why?  Well, because this kind of performance simply isn't what Miguel Olivo is.  I know I seem like I defend Chris Iannetta a lot, particularly after last season, when, thankfully, the Rockies didn't overreact to Yorvit Torrealba's BABIP-fueled second half by bringing him back for $4.5 million.  Yorvit Torrealba is what he is, and actually now that his power is largely gone, when his batting average dropped down to an empty .250 (what he normally hits) instead of an empty .291 (what he hit in 2009) the Rockies would have said, "We're spending $4.5 million on this guy?!"

At some point, we may have to accept that this is what Chris Iannetta is: a .240ish hitter with considerable pop and the ability to take a walk.  While he was a .300 hitter in the minors, we now have over 1,000 plate appearances in the majors to be able to accept this.  That's not a great player to have around, but at a key defensive position, I'm more than willing to accept a player with a .800 OPS (he's a .799 OPS player for his career, and he's been over .800 each of the last two seasons.)  And although he's clearly struggling this season, a lot of that is that his BABIP is .118.  That's brutal, but that's not going to last all season.  At some point, some of those balls are going to start dropping in for hits.  No, Iannetta is probably never going to hit .300 in the majors, but he's not going to hit .133 all season, either.

More importantly to this argument, though, is Miguel Olivo.  We have 2,674 career plate appearances to know what kind of hitter he is.  Like Iannetta, Olivo will hit somewhere in the neighborhood of .240 with considerable pop -- he knocked 23 out of the park last season.  It's unrealistic to expect Olivo to continue to homer every 8 at bats, as he's done so far this season, but we know that he can hit the ball hard.  Unlike Iannetta, Olivo is allergic to taking walks.  He's drawn two this season in 43 plate appearances -- and that's actually more than he normally draws (he's drawn 100 walks in his career.  Yes, in his career.  Todd Helton has drawn more than that many walks in five different seasons in his career.)  In seven seasons in the majors, Olivo's never had a batting average higher than .263.  It's unrealistic to expect him to keep this up.

So, Jim Tracy is going to have Olivo start more often than not as long as he's hot.  But Chris Iannetta is a better hitter than Miguel Olivo -- not in April 2010, but in most other months, he will be a better hitter.  And Jim Tracy should know this.  And Tracy should know that once he starts seeing Olivo whiff all the time, he needs to go back to the guy who's going to be the better player most of the time behind the dish.

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