The great catcher debate heads into its fourth year in Anaheim and once again Jeff Mathis and his lifeless bat remains a major part of the equation. There is some hope that Mathis might finally be turning the corner with his hitting after a strong playoff performance, but was it just a fluke or will Mathis’ glove have to carry him once again?
2009 Stats: 237 AB, .211 AVG, 26 R, 5 HR, 28 RBI, 2 SB, .596 OPS
2010 Bill James Projections: 238 AB, .218 AVG, 30 R, 6 HR, 29 RBI, 2 SB, .640 OPS
2010 Chone Projections: 339 AB, .218 AVG, 46 R, 8 HR, 40 RBI, 2 SB, .635 OPS
2010 Marcel Projections: 322 AB, .224 AVG, 41 R, 9 HR, 43 RBI, 3 SB, .656 OPS
2010 Monkey Projections*: 200 AB, .195 AVG, 20 R, 7 HR, 25 RBI, 1 SB, .615 OPS
*All stats courtesy of FanGraphs.com except the Monkey Projections which are strictly based on my own knowledge, logic and intuition.
2009 Review: Another year for Mathis meant another year of putrid production at the plate. Mathis was unable to hit for either average or power in 2009 yet still managed to get a relatively even split of time in the battery with Mike Napoli. What earned Mathis his innings was his superior defense as can be seen by him beating Napoli in catcher ERA by nearly a run in 2009 (3.95 vs. 4.86). It really wasn’t until Mathis got hot in the batter’s box in the ALCS that anyone thought he might finally be ready to fill all the promise the organization thought he had years ago. It was a long time coming, but it at least provided some glimmer of hope that Mathis might soon be more than a strong defensive back-up catcher.
3 Questions for 2010:
- How will Mathis split time with Mike Napoli? Isn’t this always the question? By all rights, Mike Napoli should be getting a vast majority of the at-bats at catcher by virtue of his mighty bat. However, Napoli just can’t seem to get his act together behind the dish thus creating a role for Mathis. There is little doubt Mathis is he superior defender, but his playing time will always be dictated more by how Napoli performs defensively than anything else.
- Can he build on his playoff success with the bat? How this question is answered will largely answer the above question as well. If Mathis can just be a below average hitter rather than a threat to have the Mendoza line renamed the Mathis line, Mike Scioscia might not be able to help himself with giving Mathis starts. Being a former catcher, Sosh places a premium on the defense of his backstop and Mathis will always be at least a rung or two (if not seven) above Napoli on the defensive ladder. If Mathis can show the same powerful and potent bat that he did in the ALCS, he might finally move ahead of Napoli on the depth chart for good.
- Might Mathis get traded before the regular season? I admit, I am kind of throwing crap against a wall and seeing if it will stick here, but I think it would make a lot of sense for the Angels to see if they can’t get some value for Mathis on the trade market in the next few weeks. They have a capable replacement for Mathis waiting in the wings in the form of Bobby Wilson, someone they are likely to lose if Mathis isn’t dealt since Wilson is out of options. Plus with Hank Conger getting closer and closer to major-league ready, there just isn’t many compelling reasons to keep Mathis around for the sake of a small upgrade at #2 catcher. If they could get a decent prospect for Mathis, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mathis end up getting dealt.
2010 Preview: I think this is finally going to be the year that Napoli separates himself from his best buddy Mathis. That means at-bats are going to be a little harder to come by for Jeff. Frankly, that should be expected anyway since he got some extra at-bats last year when Napoli was moved to DH for a few weeks. Not only do I expect Napoli to perform better defensively (I will explain this later when I preview Napoli himself), but I think Mathis is destined to always be an offensive liability. Just because he got hot for a week in October doesn’t mean he suddenly learned how to hit. Mathis will still play once or twice each time through the rotation, but with so many question marks in the Angel line-up, I just don’t see Scioscia having much tolerance for Mathis’ impotent stick.