|Chris Iannetta (Keith Allison/UCinternational)|
This is far from a minor move for the Mariners though.
Iannetta struggled last year, I guess. The popular narrative is that he struggled. He batted .188 in 317 at-bats - not a massive sample size, but certainly big enough to make a .188 batting average hard to swallow. Iannetta also struck out in over a quarter of his at-bats, and he has always been strikeout-prone. So, not that any .188 batting average looks good, but Iannetta's rendition of batting below the Mendoza line looked about as futile as one might expect. Lots of flailing.
However, before talking about what makes Iannetta good, let's just assume he replicates his 2015 campaign. Mariners catchers, in 601 combined plate appearances last year, batted .160 and struck out in almost 30% of their plate appearances. They also only hit two more combined home runs than Iannetta despite hundreds of more plate appearances. Let's not forget how woeful the Mariners catching unit was last year. Iannetta is a clear upgrade.
Moreover, batting average is just about the worst way to judge Iannetta's skillset. He has never hit for high averages, most likely thanks to his propensity to strike out and his lack of speed. Iannetta has some power though, and more than that, he has great plate discipline. Iannetta, despite owning a .231 batting average for his career (about 25-30 points below league average) also owns a career .351 on-base percentage (about 20-25 points above league average). Iannetta draws way more than his fair share of walks.
Iannetta might have simply had poor luck last season. His strikeout and walk rates were close to his career averages, as was his ISO (a metric that measures power). The only stat that was way off was his BABIP, which clocked in at an unsustainable .225 (the average MLB player has a BABIP around .300). Iannetta had nothing fall in for him last year, and when a player already does not collect many hits, that problem looks way worse. There is a good chance that Iannetta simply needs better luck to rebound.
Also, Chris Iannetta is a good defender. He has rated as a positive contributor behind the plate in all but one of his 10 seasons in the majors, and that negative year was back in his overall disastrous 2010 campaign.
There was no other catcher available that fit the Mariners better than Chris Iannetta. This is not the kind of move that saves a franchise, but it still plugged a gaping wound perfectly. Iannetta is a veteran headed towards back-up catcher/mentor status. He could become the next David Ross. Iannetta could start most days if needed, split time, or catch more infrequently. Whatever works best.
Iannetta is a wonderful piece to pair with a guy like Mike Zunino, who appears to have a similar skillset to Iannetta. Zunino also gets high marks for his defense, but his powerful swing remains filled with holes. Zunino seems to be the kind of guy who works very hard and gleans whatever he can from those around him, so watching Iannetta could make a difference for him.
The Mariners will not have a black hole at catcher this next year. In the process they even acquired some on-base skills, which will be a very welcome addition to the lineup. Seriously, given that the Mariners accumulated nearly -2.0 WAR behind the plate in 2015, the Iannetta signing might have boosted the team WAR total by almost 3 wins. That is significant. Jerry Dipoto continues to identify role players that fit together, at least on paper. Hopefully the 2016 Mariners link together just as nicely on the field.