Angels on the Block: Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger

By Michael Hllywa

If your team has a catcher that is both above average behind the plate, and a threat with a bat in his hands, count your lucky stars. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a Yadier Molina, a Buster Posey or a Joe Mauer on their team. Mostly because, good, all-around catchers are a myth. They’re unicorns. The Angels do not have one of these catchers. But, to say that they have bad options behind the plate, is wrong.

If we could combine both Hank Conger and Chris Iannetta, that would be ideal. The Iceman is tough player with an astounding eye at the plate. Conger has morphed into a, dare I say, above average defender with power in the batter’s box. Combined, they are Yadier Molina. Separate, they are two solid catchers with holes in their game.

But a solid catcher is a commodity in the trade market. A hot commodity. It’s especially enticing when a team like the Blue Jays calls up Jerry Dipoto at Angels headquarters asking about a backstop.

On the one hand, Alex Anthopoulos got suckered into taking on millions and millions of dollars in salary last year from the Marlins. Maybe he’s not as deft as we all thought. The Blue Jays also employ J.P. Arencibia. A catcher who had a wRC+ last year of 57. Five, seven. That is half as good as league average. His only real upside is that when he gets a hold of one, he hits it a long long way. The problem with that is that last year his K-rate was 29.8%.

So of course, naturally, the Blue Jays are looking to make a move. The Angels are trying to acquire pitching. The Blue Jays have a catcher that shouldn’t be allowed near a Major League Baseball diamond. The Angels have two catchers that split starting duties, and could probably start full time if one were jettisoned.

On the other hand, Anthopoulos is the one who suckered the Angels into taking on Vernon Wells and all of his contract.

“What’s that, Alex? You need a catcher? Well, we need some salary relief and a player who is actually good at the based ball.”

In my opinion, trading away one of the Angels backstops is not a bad idea. The problem is, that neither really stands out. I really like the strides that Conger has made on the defensive side of the baseball, but he has weird platoon splits. From the right side of the plate, he has a better eye, but almost no power to speak of (his ISO from the right side last season was .036). From the left side of the plate, his slugging percentage is nearly 140 points better. Do you trade Iannetta and deal with the bad when the Angels face lefties? Or use Jon Hester in the instances?

Believe it or not, Iannetta was actually a bit better than Conger was last season at the plate. His 111 wRC+ was 12 points higher than Conger’s, and almost all of it was because of his astounding plate discipline. Sometime in May, Chris decided he wasn’t going to swing anymore. And that’s what he did. He finished the season with 73 hits and 68 walks (70 walks if you count the intentional variety). That’s just stupid. But he is behind Conger in fielding metrics.

This isn’t the Mike Napoli vs. Jeff Mathis debate from a few years ago. These two catchers are a lot closer together when you factor in both offense and defense. And personally, I would trade away Iannetta. Conger still has youth on his side, while Chris – a career catcher – is now 30. Granted, the Angels would have to package Iannetta with someone else to get a player of value, but if I am Dipoto, and I am making this call, Chris goes and King Conger stays.