All is right with the world again. Sure, there is still a gushing oil leak in the gulf and the economy is still in the crapper, but at least order has been restored to the Angel line-up with Jeff Mathis returning from the DL and finally remembering that he really, really, really can’t hit.
Oh, right, I almost forgot I was one of the worst hitters in all of baseball.
Jeff Mathis, the perennial Mendoza-caliber hitter, went and got the Angel fanbase all excited in recent months that his bat might finally be coming to life. He ended 2009 with a strong ALCS hitting performance that gave the fans hope and then he got everyone in a tizzy when he started the 2010 season by hitting .324 with a .851 OPS. At long last the Angels had finally solved their catching platoon situation by way of Mathis maturing into a backstop that could both defend AND hit, something that hasn’t been seen around these parts since the days of Bengie Molina.
But then Mathis had to go and hurt himself, quickly erasing all that beautiful progress.
He’s back and healthy now, but that new hitting stroke is still apparently on the disabled list as exemplified by Jeff’s .143 AVG and .310 OPS in 27 at-bats since he returned to active duty, dragging his season average all the way down from that nice, shiny .324 to an ugly .242. And therein lies the problem. That .242 average should be considered ugly, but by Mathis’ standards, it is quite good. In fact, if the season ended today, that would be a career-best batting average for Mathis… by a pretty substantial margin.
I would love to believe that pre-injury Mathis could return, but I don’t think that player ever really existed. What we saw in March and April wasn’t a guy who figured it all out, but rather a guy who was getting insanely lucky. In those first 37 ABs, Mathis hit .324, but he needed a .370 BABIP to do it and that kind of BABIP is astronomical no matter who you are and even moreso for Mathis who currently “boasts” a .259 BABIP for his career. So, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the slugging incarnation of Mathis we saw earlier in the season definitely won’t be coming back unless Jeff has a four-leaf clover, lucky rabbit’s foot and a horseshoe all surgically implanted up his backside over the All-Star break.
The good news is, the post-DL Mathis has been almost as unlucky as the pre-DL Mathis was lucky, hitting for just a .222 BABIP this month. I mean, he really had nowhere to go but up from his current production level, but at least now we have a pretty good indicator that he should start seeing some better luck soon. Unfortunately, if Mathis simply regresses to the mean, the Halos still won’t be getting all that much production out of him. Even by the most optimistic of projections, Mathis will probably be lucky to finish the season with a batting average over .220 and and OPS over .630, both of which would be career-highs. To put it mildly, that just isn’t very good and is hard to justify no matter how good he is defensively.
So why do I bring this up (other than to make Jeff Mathis feel bad about himself)? Because the strong likelihood of Mathis morphing back into an offensive blackhole needs to be recognized and used as an impetus for the Angel front office to go about acquiring a new starting-caliber first baseman.
Having Mathis hit poorly was one thing when he and Mike Napoli were splitting time behind the dish, but with Napoli manning first base full-time, that means Mathis must catch full-time which means that his horrid bat will be in the Angel line-up full-time because they have no other choice. Yuck.
But the Angels can give themselves a choice by making a deal for a real first baseman, one that they could trust as an everyday starter. I like having Mike Napoli’s big powerful bat in the line-up all the time, but the combination of his shoddy defense at first and Mathis’ lousy hitting at catcher seem like a bad combination for a team hoping to contend. However, if someone like Adam LaRoche were brought in, Mike Scioscia would be given the option to mix and match at first and catcher on a daily basis to find the right combination of defense and offense. The end result might very well be a few additional wins for the Halos, and those might come in pretty handy given how tight the AL West is shaping up to be.