With Kyle Freeland at the plate in the top of the 6th inning of the Colorado Rockies 3-2 win over the Mets on Sunday, Tony Wolters took a chance in a tight game and broke for second base. Typically, with two outs and your pitcher at the dish, a runner at first should be growing roots in the ground. But Tony Wolters is not a typical baseball player.
Instead of dropping into a controlled, headfirst slide that minimizes impact with the ground–you know, a good slide–Tony Wolters went full Pete Rose. Like a football player laying out for the pylon, he leaped up, not down, and hung in the air long enough for him to remember how hard the ground is, I’m sure, and then smashed into it with his first stolen base of the year. Instead of his body swinging gracefully to the side of second base, he bounced and thudded to a halt like a Tiger Woods 9 iron. Here’s a picture of the slide below.
I bring up this particular play because it highlights why the undersized, middle infielder-converted catcher is such a valuable member of the team, and why I think he should start seeing more starts moving forward. That kind of effort, tenacity, and giving oneself up for the team is the difference in a lot of these close games the Rockies have found themselves in, and the difference between a good season and a magical one.
None of this is any sort of knock on Chris Iannetta. I think he was a good pick up for the Rockies this off season and there is no doubt that he brings a tremendous level of experience and skill behind the plate. In fact, I think Chris should certainly start against all lefties. He boasts a career .848 OPS against lefties. Against righties, however, I’d like to see a little more Tony. Hang with me here.
As baseball fans, we love pointing to stats. So let’s do that. All of the following statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com. There’s no doubt that from an offensive numbers perspective, Iannetta has the advantage. While both guys take good at bats, Chris adds an element of slugging that Wolters has yet to find consistently.
That said, Iannetta is a career .220 hitter against right handed pitching. Wolters has hit .247 in his career against righties and you have to think it can improve since he is so young.
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Defense is where the numbers might surprise you. At catcher, more than at any other position, defense is held at a premium. Tony Wolters takes the cake in almost every single defensive metric. Our pitching has a 4.73 ERA with Iannetta behind the plate, but a 3.38 ERA with Wolters back there.
Iannetta has thrown out just 15% of potential base-stealers this season, while Wolters has gunned down 36%. What about other types of defensive quandaries catchers find themselves in? Wolters has a .993 fielding percentage with 88% of balls fielded resulting in an out. Iannetta has a .985 fielding percentage with 71% of balls fielded resulting in an out.
Let’s dig just a little further. We’re almost done, I promise. RDRS is defensive runs saved above average, which calculates how many runs a player has “saved” based on the plays he has made. Chris Iannetta has a -4 RDRS, while Tony has a +4 RDRS. How about Wins Above Replacement? Taking into account BOTH offense and defense, WAR calculates how many wins a player has been worth over a freshly called up AAA player, essentially (a “replacement”). Iannetta has a -0.3 WAR, while Tony is hanging tough at 0.0.
All of this is simply to illustrate what my eyeballs already tell me: that Tony Wolters is a very fine catcher who plays his butt off for the team. Oh, and I almost forgot the most important stat of all. The Rockies have a 10-12 record when Iannetta is behind the plate, and 10-3 when Wolters has the gear on.
The dude’s a winner and if his silent treatment in the dugout after his upper tanker the other night is any indication, his teammates clearly love him and root for him. Let’s get him some more ABs, at least against righties, and teach him how to slide. Or not. Maybe the Pete Rose slide should make a comeback.