It must be nice to be the only team in baseball that can afford to bench a catcher with 30-home run power and a career .850 OPS in favor of one with .601 career OPS and a career batting average just one point north of the Mendoza line. I had no idea that the Angel offense had gotten so powerful that they could give up that kind of production and not have it hurt them. Oh… that’s right. THEY HAVEN’T.
Why is there even a debate between these two?
Mike Scioscia has made some truly questionable calls in his day, but he largely skates by on them because he has such a great track record for being a great manager, as well he should. But if he is intent on sticking with Jeff Mathis as his primary catcher, he needs to get his head checked immediately. Having Jeff Mathis start most games might make sense to Scioscia and his old school sensibilities, but to anyone familiar with even the most basic of new baseball statistics, the decision is comically bad.
In 2009, Mike Napoli was fifth amongst all catchers in VORP. Want to guess where Mathis ranked out of 109 catchers in 2009?
30th? Not even close.
75th? Keep going.
100th? Almost there.
The correct answer is 107th out of 109 catchers. Yes, you read that correctly- ONE HUNDREDTH AND GOD DAMNED SEVENTH!!!!!!!
I know Sosh like Mathis’ defense overly Napoli, but how does that justify benching one of the best hitting catchers in baseball for one of the worst? Of course, I shouldn’t expect Scioscia to really think about advanced metrics when he doesn’t even know the difference between PECOTA and chicken piccata (seriously). If this were ANY OTHER team in baseball, not only would Napoli be starting, but he’d probably play over 125 games and the front office would be actively shopping for an upgrade over Mathis at back-up catcher. Instead, Naps is asked to quietly sit on the bench and watch Mathis get all of his at-bats. That is stupid with a capital “S.”
But just to play devils’ advocate, let’s entertain the notion that Mathis is really vastly superior to Mike Napoli defensively. I certainly won’t argue that Mathis is a better defender than Napoli, but is really so great to justify the massive downgrade offensively. Defensive metrics for catchers are limited at best, but there are a few things we can check (all stats for 2009):
Passed Balls: Mathis = 6, Napoli = 5
Runner Caught Stealing %: Mathis = 26%, Napoli = 22%
Catcher ERA: Mathis = 3.99, Napoli = 4.86
Mathis is definitely better, as you can see, but is he that much better? He doesn’t throw at that many more runners and certainly doesn’t boast a rate amongst the best in the league. Both check out as adequate at blocking pitches. Really the big difference is in Catcher ERA, but that is such a flawed stat that we can’t make any broad assumptions about it. What we can do is take a look at this nifty little stab at measuring catcher defensive value put together by Driveline Mechanics. Most importantly, take note of where Mathis ranks amongst all catchers and where Napoli ranks.
It turns out that Napoli is pretty bad, checking in at 114th, dead last in the league. Suddenly Scioscia’s choice makes a lot of sense. But now look at where Mathis ranks, 90th overall. Oops, Scioscia’s logic just got obliterated with a shotgun to the face. Sure, Mathis is better, compared to Napoli, but so is every other catcher and compared to every other catcher, Mathis not only isn’t one of the best, he isn’t even good. Heck, he might not even be below average, so what is Scioscia really gaining by playing him?
Mathis may have the innate talent to be an excellent receiver, but thus far that talent has translated on the field but Napoli’s potent bat has and then some. With quality offensive producers at the catching position almost impossible to find, it is time for Sosh to drop this ridiculous charade and give Naps back his tools of ignorance and put him back in the line-up immediately and don’t take him out for any reason other than rest.
Make it happen, Scioscia, you are a better manager than this.