We apologize for the delayed arrival of this piece, due to the late departure of World Series Game 5. I was going to start after that had finished: with a 5:20 pm first pitch, I thought I’d have plenty of time. Yeah... About that... It ended up being the longest game of baseball not involving the Diamondbacks, I’ve ever watched from start to finish. But, boy, was it worth it.
Chris Iannetta was another player familiar with Chase Field, having been a Rockies’ draft pick who played for them from 2006-11. He then moved to the American League, spending time with the Angels and Mariners before signing with the D-backs on January 13. It was expected he would split time with fellow catcher Jeff Mathis, inked six weeks earlier - the question was, how the games would be split up. The answer seemed mostly to be by starting pitcher. Though the figures were muddied by time lost to fractures by both players (Mathis to a broken hand, Iannetta to a broken nose resulting from a pitch to the face), here’s how the splits broke down:
- Zack Greinke: Mathis 25 games, Iannetta 7
- Robbie Ray: Herrmann 18, Iannetta 6, Mathis 5
- Taijuan Walker: Iannetta 16, Mathis 8, Herrmann 5
- Zack Godley: Iannetta 16, Mathis 7, Herrmann 2, Murphy 1
- Patrick Corbin: Iannetta 16, Herrmann 11, Mathis 6, Murphy 1
It’s a split which may help explain why Iannetta’s Catcher’s ERA was the highest on the team. At 4.03, it was above Herrmann (3.17), Murphy (3.38) and Mathis (3.51). Though it’s a chicken and the egg situation. To what extent do the pitchers’ performances determine that figure, as opposed to the catchers? Hard to say. But defensively, the metrics suggest things unspooled as expected: Mathis was clearly the best, with Iannetta solid enough, and Herrmann well below average. However, when you take into account their offense, the boot was on the other foot, with Iannetta’s 114 OPS+ far and away above Mathis (51) and Herrmann (55).
Is he needed in 2018?
Well, we will need someone to take up the team-leading 70 games Iannetta started at catcher this year (the others being Mathis 56, Herrmann 35 and Murphy 1). That’s actually a little lower than Iannetta has generally played: in 2014-16, he started between 80 and 92 each year, so he was within his capacity. He was worth 2.9 WARP [the Baseball Prospectus metric, which is good for catchers, because it does take things like framing and other defensive skills into account], so was well worth the $1.5 million cost for Iannetta. Add that to a year’s worth of familiarity with our pitching staff, most of whom will return, I’d certainly be inclined to make a strong re-sign effort.
The team will have Mathis back for another year. But it perhaps means something that when I typed “Jeff Mathis” into my browser just now, his stats page did NOT pop-up in my history. He started 56 games, which was already the most for him since 2013. It would have been more, given he started one of the last 37 due to that broken hand; I’m not sure how much further we would want to push Mathis, considering he will turn 35 next spring-training. I wouldn’t mind seeing Iannetta take a bigger share of the workload in 2018 than was originally planned this year. Though if Greinke wants to keep throwing to Mathis, I’m fine with that.
With not much in the farm system - John Ryan Murphy seems, as noted, more like a long-term replacement for Mathis, with his pitch-framing skills - any substitute for Iannetta would likely need to come from outside the organization. Here’s the MLB Trade Rumors list of other free-agent catchers on the market this winter, along with their ages and any applicable options.
- Alex Avila (31)
- Welington Castillo (31) — $7MM player option
- A.J. Ellis (37)
- Nick Hundley (34)
- Jose Lobaton (33)
- Jonathan Lucroy (32)
- Miguel Montero (34)
- Rene Rivera (34)
- Carlos Ruiz (39)
- Geovany Soto (35)
- Chris Stewart (36) — $1.5MM club option with a $250K buyout
- Matt Wieters (32) — $11MM player option