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« Bell Takes His Talents to South Beach | Main | Epstein, Hoyer Buy Low on DeJesus »
Thursday
Dec012011

Angels Swap Chatwood for Ianetta

Jerry Dipoto began his tenure as Angels GM by acquiring a high-OBP catcher and ending the long national nightmare known as "Now batting, Jeff Mathis." L.A. picked up Chris Ianetta from the Rockies in exchange for right-handed starter Tyler Chatwood. Colorado then inked Ramon Hernandez to a two-year, $6.5 million contract to serve as a stopgap to prospect Wilin Rosario.

In Ianetta, the Angels pick up one of the most patient hitters in the game and a guy who could be described as Mike Napoli Lite (don't tell Mike Scioscia I said that). The big right-handed hitter, 29 in April, has chased less than 19 percent of pitches thrown off the plate over the past three years. Daric Barton, Bobby Abreu, Josh Willingham, Marco Scutaro, Geovany Soto and Jack Cust are the only hitters with 1,000+ plate appearances over that period that have shown more restraint. Ianetta's power and discipline make him a quality hitter for a catcher at any altitude, as his 102 OPS+ and 99 career OPS+ show, and Baseball-Reference's Total Zone rates him as around average behind the dish.

Ianetta's production will be worth more than his modest $3.55 million salary in 2012, but his acquisition and the possible return to health of Kendrys Morales mean that Hank Conger may be looking at another year at Salt Lake City. This trade shouldn't be seen as a condemnation of Conger, though. Because he was swapped, Ianetta can void his $5 million club option for 2013, and it's hard to believe that he won't test the market at that point. Conger has hit a combined .204/.284/.345 in 231 PA in short MLB stints over the past two years, chasing 33 percent of out-of-zone pitches. So long as the switch-hitter gets regular ABs next year to hone his approach, he should be ready to take over in 2013.

Ianetta's pick-up also means that Mathis' playing time will be mercifully cut, if he's not set loose with a non-tender altogether. Whatever Mathis' defensive merits are -- they don't show up in the admittedly limited defensive catcher stats at hand -- it's hard to overstate just how bad of a hitter he has been since breaking into the big leagues in 2005. His adjusted OPS is 50 percent worse than average.

It's just plain hard to find an epic out-maker who has gotten as many plate appearances as Mathis (1,360). There's a simple reason for that: when a guy can't outhit his battery mate, he's usually shown the door. Maybe they burn his bats just to make sure he can't swing them anymore, or suggest he look into green energy job as a human windmill. Mathis is one of just 26 hitters ever to post an OPS+ of 50 or lower while getting over 1,000 PAs, and he's the only guy since the 1980s:

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

Scioscia loves Mathis, but Darwin hates him.

Colorado, meanwhile, traded two years of possible team control over Ianetta for five years of Chatwood. On the positive side, the soon-to-be 22-year-old ranked as the 76th-best prospect according to Baseball America prior to last year and managed not to get beheaded in the majors when he really had no place being there as a guy with all of 90 innings of experience in the upper minor leagues. That said, he's awfully raw. Chatwood barely struck out more batters (4.7 per nine) than he walked (4.5), and he was more of a modest ground ball pitcher (48 GB%) than a real dirt devil. It's not like he dominated on the farm, either, with 7.6 K/9, nearly five free passes per nine and ground ball rates that quickly went from extreme to average.

As a rookie, Chatwood basically flung 92-93 mph fastballs toward the plate and hoped for the best. That fastball, thrown nearly three-quarters of the time, was tagged for a .308/.406/.460 opponent line. He kept going to the pitch so often because he couldn't spot his curveball (thrown for a strike 54 percent of the time) or changeup (49 percent). The curve was too often buried well out of the strike zone...

Chatwod's curveball location, 2011

...and the changeup missed to the arm side... 

Chatwood's changeup location, 2011

With a predictable, fastball-heavy approach and spotty secondary stuff, Chatwood had an especially hard time keeping left-handed hitters off base. Lefties had a .410 OBP against him, the fourth-highest mark for a righty starter against lefty batters (Charlie Morton, Kyle Drabek and Esmil Rogers ranked 1-3).

This isn't to be totally negative about Chatwood, but rather a realization that he's basically a Double-A pitcher trying to survive at the highest level because he was promoted so aggressively. It could be a while before he's an asset, and even there you have to go more on faith in scouting reports and his youth than any hard evidence.  Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd said as much to MLB.com's Thomas Harding: "He's young, he has a power arm, he's a tremendous athlete, and from what we have gathered, he's ultra-competitive. We're not looking at his numbers because of his age and where he was at when he reached the big league level."

To temporarily replace Ianetta, Colorado signed Hernandez to an inexpensive two-year deal. Hernandez is 35, has bad knees and has averaged about 90 games per season in recent years, so there's a chance his career does a mile-high nosedive. But he has been on Ianetta's level as a hitter when he's in there (103 OPS+ since 2009), and the Rockies have the 23-year-old Rosario in mind as their long-term backstop. Rosario has serious power, though he might not be ready for prime time after striking out nearly five times as often as he walked at Double-A Tulsa with a .284 OBP and then putting up a 2/20 BB/K ratio late last season in the majors. It might be best if he opens the year at Triple-A and works on his plate approach while Jordan Pacheco splits time with Hernandez, lest Rosario become Miguel Olivo Jr.

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