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Inside Chris Iannetta's Demotion: Why the Colorado Rockies Catcher Was Sent Down

DENVER - AUGUST 23:  Catcher Chris Iannetta #20 of the Colorado Rockies awaits the throw behind the plate against the San Francisco Giant at Coors Field on August 23, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Giants 4-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Daniel DaytonContributor IMay 26, 2010

Tuesday, the Colorado Rockies recalled Chris Iannetta from his stint at Colorado Springs.

Iannetta did well in his time in the Springs, batting .349/.447/.698/1.146 with five home runs and 21 runs batted in 63 at-bats in 17 games. Those numbers are a long way from his struggles to start the season with the Rockies, where he was .133/.235/.333/.569.

When Iannetta was sent down, there were eyebrows raised, and it even got some national press coverage. MLB Trade Rumors flipped out, and Rob Neyer of ESPN commented on Iannetta’s demotion .

Why all the handwringing over Iannetta’s demotion? Why is a catcher struggling to hit the weight of Alanna Rizzo a national concern, or of any notice at all?

Well, because Iannetta over his career has put up good numbers in one category: OPS, or On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage, which is the new favorite stat of some baseball numbers guys. They see this stat as the one great thing to be celebrated above all others. Iannetta’s career OPS is .799.

Where I disagree with those that point to OPS alone is that it’s like every other stat in baseball: It tells part of a picture, not the whole story. In the case of Iannetta’s OPS, it was SO far off his BA stat that to me it showed something was wrong with Iannetta’s swing or his approach at the plate.

I argued that Iannetta’s OPS wasn’t sustainable, as pitchers would not be afraid of him and would pitch to him more in the zone. He would either kill the pitchers for doing so or he would struggle, and his BA and OBP would go down, and that is what was happening this year.

So the Rockies sent Chris Iannetta down to the Sky Sox, but what was the real story on Iannetta’s demotion? Not many established players get the hook or a demotion after only a few games and with as few at-bats as Chris did this year.

I have an inside source/contact that filled me in. I also heard this from another source in Colorado Springs that confirmed it as well and told a similar story, so I figured I could run with it now.

Iannetta was sent to Colorado Springs to fix his swing for sure, but that wasn’t the ONLY reason. He had developed a huge loop that was long. It was an uppercut swing that sent everything into the air.

This was NOT the swing the Rockies had tried to get Iannetta to have in spring training, where the Rockies emphasized hitting to the middle of the field by placing cones in a V shape on the field during batting practice all spring. This was, in fact, just the opposite.

Rockies hitting coach Don Baylor was trying to work with Iannetta to get him to correct the swing. This is where my contact told me the real reason Iannetta was sent to the minors: Iannetta was not listening. Chris thought he had no issues and thought if he continued to do what he was doing, everything would be just fine.

Iannetta’s hitting woes were also bleeding over to his catching duties. Being a catcher at the major league level is in itself a full-time job. Catchers have to study hitters, tendencies, and then have to use their heads to match that all up to the pitcher each day. Iannetta had work to do here as well. The Rockies staff viewed it as a mental focus issue and was concerned about Iannetta’s effort here.

Having a player work through issues is common and not an issue. But becoming hardheaded and un-coachable is a HUGE issue. Now having the label of un-coachable is a pretty bad label, and I’m not saying that’s where Iannetta was, but it was the next step. The Rockies needed to grab Iannetta’s attention before he got there.

The Rox thought Iannetta needed a wake-up call and eye-opener. They had talked to the point where Iannetta was no longer listening to the coaches. The Rockies needed to get Iannetta’s mental attention and focus.

Please don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that Iannetta had a “bad attitude,” as that wasn’t Iannetta. Chris was just mentally stuck in the wrong place and heading down a wrong track in all areas of his game.

A telling and confirming of my story is almost every story from the Rockies' beat writers from the spring on Iannetta mentions “his attitude.” For example, when Chris was recalled on Tuesday, Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd said, “He has addressed his swing mechanics, shown a great attitude and done everything we have asked,” according to The Denver Post .

Welcome back Chris. much playing time will you get?



* I asked my source if the Rockies sent Iannetta to the Springs to raise his trade value. His response was the Rockies would trade Chris for the right price, but this was about getting Iannetta right for the Rockies, not to raise his trade value.

AAA catching prospect Michael McKenry is close to ready. McKenry is looking like a good glove, great throwing catcher, but little hit guy. He’d be a solid backup catcher in the bigs, but as a hitter, he’s expected to struggle at the major league level. Expect McKenry in Denver, when the rosters expand in September.

Juicy part from my source: Iannetta is a big trade chip for the Rockies this offseason.

* The signing of Kaz Matsui is more than just a no-risk flier for the Rockies. The Rockies really need him to regain some form, and they hope he will help out at the major leagues.

From Dave Krieger and The Denver Post :

"O’Dowd blames himself for one structural issue that may need immediate attention. By signing two backup infielders better known for their bats than their gloves, he has left Tracy with few options. With Jason Giambi limited to first base and Melvin Mora largely limited to third after some horrific play at second, Tracy has no backup middle infielder. Second baseman Clint Barmes is struggling at the plate, batting .215, but Tracy doesn’t have the option of resting him unless he wants to risk Mora at second again."

My source confirms this. My speculation is that if Matsui has anything left in the tank, either Giambi or Mora will be gone. I’ve written that I feel Giambi should go, but my source thinks Mora is really getting stiff and old fast, and I got the sense that Mora could very easily be released.

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