Spring training 2019 for the Colorado Rockies and other Major League teams is fast approaching, with pitchers and catchers set to report this upcoming week. The infamous “hot stove” of the off-season has been lukewarm at best this time around. Many supposedly coveted players still find themselves without teams to play for as we enter mid-February. Because of this, many fans are left to wonder why their teams haven’t done more to upgrade.
The popular consensus among Colorado Rockies fans entering this offseason was that the team needed an upgrade at the catcher position. Yet as we enter the final week leading up to spring camp, Chris Iannetta and Tony Wolters remain the catching tandem for the team. What has left many fans scratching their heads is the fact that there were multiple opportunities for the Rockies to upgrade at the position throughout the winter.
Free agent catchers Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki would have been great upgrades to the team’s overall production. However, the Rockies ended up missing out on both as Ramos signed with the Mets and Suzuki signed with the Nationals. The largest trade target this offseason was (former) Marlins stud catcher J.T. Realmuto. Many fans believed that the Rockies should have done anything to acquire the all-star catcher, even if that meant including top prospect Brendan Rodgers in a deal. However, the Phillies ended up acquiring the prized catcher in a major trade with the Marlins this past week.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the Rockies feel comfortable starting the 2019 season with their current in-house options at catcher. Does the lack of an upgrade at catcher spell doom for a team looking for a third straight postseason appearance?
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The simple answer is no. The catchers will not be what completely makes or breaks the upcoming season. It is no secret that the total production that the Rockies got from their catchers last season left much to be desired. However, both Iannetta and Wolters added value to the team in different ways that helped the team reach the postseason for a second straight year.
The phenomenal way that Iannetta and Wolters handled the young pitching staff last season cannot be overstated. Denver native Kyle Freeland had arguably the best season by a starting pitcher in franchise history and Germán Márquez emerged as a superstar in the making. It is safe to say that without the performance of the starting rotation last year, the Rockies probably don’t come close to sniffing the postseason.
Although Iannetta won’t put up sexy offensive numbers, he still provided some value to the lackluster offense last season. Despite sporting a .224 average, Iannetta still posted an on base percentage over a hundred points higher at .345. This is due to the fact that he takes professional at-bats and has a knack for making opposing pitchers work (which in of itself adds value to the offense). Last season, the league average for pitches per plate appearance was 3.90. Iannetta posted a pitches per plate appearance average of 4.16.
Iannetta isn’t going to be the guy who hits .300, with 25+ home runs, and drives in 95, but he is still capable of getting on base at the bottom of the order and flipping the lineup over, which is valuable.
Wolters is more of a traditional catcher in the sense that defense comes first and whatever offense you get from him on any given day is considered a bonus. Wolters has emerged as one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. This is evident by looking at two important advanced defensive metrics. Using Baseball Reference’s catcher strike zone runs above average (RszC), which is a way to determine the value of catcher framing, shows Wolters finished eighth out of all catchers in the majors last season with 7 RszC. Wolters also had 14 defensive runs saved (DRS) last season, which placed him fourth out of all major league catchers.
Though it would have been nice for the Rockies to make a major upgrade at catcher heading into 2019, Iannetta and Wolters still provide important value to the team. If the Rockies do indeed falter this season and fail to make a third straight postseason trip, it won’t just be because of who is behind the plate. The more important determinants for how this season goes will be the production from young guys like Garrett Hampson, Ryan McMahon, and Rodger; if bullpen arms Chris Rusin, Jake McGee, and Bryan Shaw are able to have bounceback seasons; and the kind of encore performance the young talented rotation has for 2019 after their stellar 2018 campaign.