Friday, December 2, 2011

Feeling towards Chris Iannetta still baffling

I never question why a fan falls in love with a player.

That is part of the fun of being a fan. Finding something in a particular player that makes you root for that guy. It might be his talent, it might be his character, it might be his work ethic, it might be his looks, it might be his potential.

My sister, who was never a baseball fan, became a passionate Colorado Rockies fan not because of Larry Walker, Todd Helton, Dante Bichette or Vinny Castilla, but rather because of a light-hitting second baseman named Brent Butler. Butler was listed at 6'0", 180 lbs. He would have been lucky to be 6'0" with four inch heels on, and the only way he weighed 180 lbs is if he carried a twenty pound dumbell with him when it was time to weigh in.

For parts of three seasons, Butler played his heart out for the Rockies. He was a player who never forgot how good it was to be a Major Leaguer. His final big league stats? .248 batting average, with a .285 on-base percentage. He hit 11 home runs and drove in 60 runs.

There needs to be no rhyme or reason why fans root for certain players. That is one of the beautiful things about sports.

However, the amount of passion for Chris Iannetta still baffles me. Sure, Iannetta came up in September 2006 as if he would be the first Rockies catcher to really make a name for himself. However, he simply never lived up to that potential.

Since Iannetta was traded on Wednesday, and really since 2007, Iannetta's fans have been defending him as if he were the greatest catcher in baseball who was being mistreated by the Rockies. The passion went beyond baseball, too. Many of his fans suggested that Iannetta's feelings were probably hurt because of how poorly the Rockies management was handling him.

They argued that his high on-base percentage proved that he was a great player, better than Yorvit Torrealba in 2007 and 2009, and better than Miguel Olivo in 2010. They pointed to his slugging percentage, and the high number of extra base hits he recorded. The reality is, Iannetta became the poster boy for sabermetric stats, the same principles used in the recent Brad Pitt movie, "Moneyball."

The reality is, Iannetta lost playing time to Torrealba in 2007 and 2009 because Torrealba outplayed him. In 2010, the story was the same when was beat out by Miguel Olivo.

The critics were correct in saying that both Torrealba and Olivo were journeymen catchers who were simply on a hot streak. They were right. Certainly, Iannetta possesses physical talents that go beyond what those two catchers possess. However, talent doesn't win baseball games, results do.

Sure, maybe Iannetta found himself on the bench too quickly after slow starts. Maybe luck wasn't on his side in that he wasn't able to play through his slumps because the catchers signed to back him up caught fire and forced their managers hand. But really, whose fault is that? It wasn't Clint Hurdle's and it wasn't Jim Tracy's fault.

This isn't Little League. This isn't about what is fair and what isn't fair. Major League Baseball is a results-driven business. In fact, it is a multi-billion dollar industry that relies on teams being successful. When salaries are as high as they are, and win-loss records push ticket sales, there is no room for excuses. If Iannetta lost his job to veterans who happened to catch fire at the right time, it's not anyone's fault but Chris Iannetta's. Unfortunately, there have probably been hundreds of star players who never reached their star potential because they simply didn't get it done when they needed to.

There is a saying in baseball that the only thing harder than getting to the big leagues is staying there. With as much competition as there is in baseball, the window of opportunity to be successful is small, and it closes fast. That is the unfortunate nature of the beast. There is no doubt that Iannetta's 2008 season was one of the best by any catcher in the league that year. However, he didn't follow it up. He never proved that it wasn't a fluke. He never removed all doubt. He was never consistent.

Fans will point to how many walks Iannetta was able to gather in. Fans will say that his eye was as good as anybody on the team. They may be right. However, those critical of Iannetta wish he would have swung the bat a little bit more. A walk is as good as a hit, but not when the pitcher is due up next and there are two outs. The only good thing it does at that point is turn the lineup over. With the power that Iannetta possesses, it would have been much more fun to see him expand his zone and let it fly more than he did.

Was it Iannetta's fault that he was relegated to the eight-hole? Absolutely not. The lineups that Jim Tracy writes up on a day-to-day basis are the greatest sign of his micromanagement. There probably isn't a soul in the world besides Tracy that explain the logic in Iannetta hitting in the eight-hole every time he played, while other catchers who have far less talent were taking swings in the cleanup spot. That is something that Iannetta fan's and non-fans will agree on.

The two days since the trade were filled with people saying all sorts of things about Iannetta. He is such an oddly polarizing figure. Fans referred to Iannetta as "so much fun to watch." While I understand being a fan, I must be missing something. Iannetta's play was hardly fun to watch. Even when he was successful. It's not like he played the game with an amazing grace. I feel like I must have missed something. I appreciate it and understand it, but I have never watched a batter take four pitches outside of the strike zone and been mesmerized by how fun that was to watch.

Like I mentioned, there is no reason that has to be given by a fan for why they fall in love with a player. No one has to have a reason. However, the number of Iannetta fans out there who seem to be heartbroken by the trade is perplexing.

The reality is, Iannetta is an average Major League Baseball player who most likely will never hit his talent ceiling. There is nothing wrong with that. It just seems weird that so many people saw so many different things in him.

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