Cactus League Conundrum: Mathis, Conger, Wilson and the War Against Common Sense

Really, Mike Scioscia?  We’re really going to have to do this?  Some of the names have changed but the situation remains the same as we now get set to embark on the fifth consecutive year of having Jeff Mathis, and his many flaws, rammed down our throat at catcher despite having a seemingly superior option waiting in the wings.  Will common sense ever prevail when it comes to Mike Scioscia doling out playing time to his catchers or are we doomed to do this dance forever?

Mathis and Scioscia

Mathis, why can’t Scioscia quit you?

Want to hear something funny?  The Angels insist that there is a competion for playing time at catcher.

Seriously, I know Cactus League games don’t even start until this weekend, but the catching situation in Anaheim has already been decided, the Angels just haven’t made it official yet.  Oh, sure, the Angels will try and act like it is an open competition, but you don’t need to be an English major to read into -the deeper meaning of every quote Scioscia has given about his catchers to realize that his mind is made up on having Jeff Mathis be his main man.  It would take a disaster for anyone other than Mathis to catch the majority of games for the Halos this season, and seeing how Mathis has already gotten more playing time than he deserves throughout his career, that disaster would have to be would have to be Chernobyl-esque in nature to even make Sosh think twice about abandoning his faith in good ol’ Mendoza Line Mathis.  Hell, the Halos are still even trotting out the tired line about Mathis showing signs of “coming around” offensively because he hit well for one post-season series back in 2009.  Yeah, clearly one week of hitting decently outweighs five consecutive years of being an offensive black hole.

What is so frustrating about it is that the Angels clearly have passable alternatives available to replace Mathis.  Bobby Wilson is no great shakes with a bat in his hands, but he still had an OPS of .705 despite getting highly sporadic playing time.  Even if that OPS was a bit flukish (and it might not be seeing how he never had an OPS under .700 or a batting average below .268 in the minors), he can’t possibly be any worse offensively than Mathis has shown himself to be year after year.  But if it is defense that Scioscia really wants, it isn’t unreasonable to think that Wilson might be Mathis’ superior there as well.  In fact, Beyon the Box Score has been tracking a catcher defense ranking the last few seasons and Mathis has never graded out as being anything special defensively, contrary to the mountains of praise Scioscia always gives him.  In fact, Mathis graded out as THE WORST defensive catcher in the bigs last season.  Worse than Scioscia’s archnemsis, Mike Napoli, who was 113th out of 120.  Worse than Bobby Wilson, who was ranked 71st.  Mathis has gotten a bit of a pass for his performance due to his injuries, so you have to take that with a grain of salt, much like Wilson should get some leeway since he played so infrequently and had to establish a rapport with the pitchign staff.  But even if you don’t put much stock in that metric, Wilson has long carried a reputation for being a fine defensive receiver, and that was before he lost 30 pounds this off-season, which should make him much more nimble behind the dish.

But none of that matters, Wilson is going to be the back-up and there is nothing that can be said to change that.

Since we are talking about defense, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the elephant in the room, Hank Conger, who, oh by the way, also graded out higher than Mathis at 84th.  Nothing special, for sure (though you have to account for the small sample size so he could grade out much better or worse), but shouldn’t it at least put Hank in the conversation for the starting job, not to mention the back-up role?  Sure it should, but this is Mike Scioscia we are talking about.  Conger has a lot of potential as a hitter, but he has yet to prove he can be anywhere near as dangerous as Mike Napoli and Sosh saw fit to bury Naps whenever possible.

Conger never stood a chance.  To Scioscia, Conger is raw defensively and needs more time to develop.  I actually can’t disagree with that, but I do wish he would consider letting him learn on the job in the majors, but we know that won’t happen.  You see, Scioscia has created a lovely little Catch-22 for young Hank.  Manager Mike says Conger needs to get regular playing time to hone his defensive skills, a fair assertion, but Conger can’t get that regular playing time in the majors because Sosh has already made a quadruple-secret decision that Mathis is going to start more often than not, therefore, Conger can’t be in the majors because he is not really being given a legit shot at unseating Mathis and since Mathis cannot be unseated, Hank isn’t a viable candidate to serve as his understudy.  In other words, back to Mormontown, USA for our buddy Hank.

So it makes pretty much no sense, but Mathis is perfectly set up to start 100+ games this season despite being likely the worst offensive option at catcher and possibly not even the best defensive catcher on the roster.  Yup, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  But don’t tell that to Scioscia, because as far as he is concerned, the competition at catcher remains wide open (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, fingers crossed).

Garrett Wilson

About Garrett Wilson

Garrett Wilson is the founder and Supreme Overlord of and editor at The Outside Corner. He's an Ivy League graduate, but not from one of the impressive ones. You shouldn't make him angry. You wouldn't like him when he is angry.