Tuesday, February 21, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - Jeff Mathis, the New Kid in Town

Who: Jeff Mathis . No. 6, catcher. 6’0", 200 LBS. 28 years old.

Tao-Approved Nicknames: Somehow, we can’t stop calling him “Mike Mathis”, which is some sort of synaptic misfire that mashes together Jeff Mathis with his former manager Mike Scioscia and beloved catch-and-throw guy Mike Matheny. It has nothing to do with the former NBA referee.

History: Seven MLB seasons and 426 games played, all with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Contract Status: $1,500,000 for 2012. Free agent following the season.

Career Stats: .194 AVG, .257 OBP, .301 SLG, .557 OPS. 26 homers and 139 RBI in 1360 plate appearances.

2011 Stats: (Contains disturbing numbers. Reader discretion is advised.) .174 AVG, .225 OBP, .259 SLG and a .484 OPS in 281 plate appearances over 93 games. -1.0 WAR (Fangraphs edition.)

Nerd Stats: Fangraphs assessed Mathis at a dollar value of -$4.4 million last year. If the Angels can ever collect on some of that money he owes them, it might help to offset a small portion of the Vernon Wells deal.

Somewhat Surprising Stat: Hit nine home runs in 2008 in 328 plate appearances, and still posted a meagre slugging percentage of .318.

What the what?: His isolated power number in 2011 (.085) was higher than Joe Mauer’s (.081).

Looking Back: It can’t be easy being Jeff Mathis. On the one hand, your best attributes as a ballplayer are truly intangible, because there are precious few metrics that can fully measure the admiration of his former manager Mike Scioscia. Scioscia’s insistence on playing Mathis in recent years over better offensive options like Mike Napoli or Hank Conger became a laugh line for many of the more progressively-minded baseball fans.

It’s difficult for us to truly assess the value of a good catch and throw guy who is so inept at the plate, because even the counting stats that are available only tell a small part of the story, or so we’re led to believe. Sure, Mathis only allowed six passed balls in 698 innings squatting behind the plate (versus the eight that former back up José Molina gave up in 399 innings). But does that make up for the hole in the lineup that he leaves?

Looking Forward: With just one year left on his contract, Mathis is truly a backup and a stop gap until Travis d’Arnaud is ready to take the next step into the Majors. Moreover, we’d expect for J.P. Arencibia to get a heavy load of work this year, so don’t be surprised if Mathis makes only a token weekly start.

Just don’t spend too much time thinking about what happens if the Jays need to go to him in an everyday role for an extended period of time this year. Because those are the things of which nightmares are made.

Maybe that’s too harsh, because we really do respect the role that Mathis is supposed to play. As a stellar defensive catcher and a man who can whisper into the ears of pitchers to set them straight along their course, we may yet find that thing that made Scioscia so starry-eyed over the past few years. Let’s hope so.

2012 Expectations: Even with his deficiencies, the Jays made a point of going out to get Mathis, and we’d expect that by the time the team breaks camp, he’ll be designated as the personal catcher for at least one of the starting staff. Aside from that, anything better than terrible at the plate will have to be considered a plus.


Unknown said...

As a casual Jays fan living in the deep south of the U.S. (Originally from Rhode Island), I'm really appreciating this series. But why only 30 Jays/days? Is that a metric month?

Ball Fan in a Hockey Nation said...

I love the 30 Jays in 30 Days concept. Great idea!

Does anyone else but me think that Mathis' occasional start might be on Brandon Morrow's turn in the rotation?

Tao of Stieb said...

30 is a round number. People like round numbers.

Also, 31 Days might kill me.

Anonymous said...

Mathis is not on the Jays roster. I'll just refuse to admit it for a few months, and then he'll be gone come November and it'll be like he was never here.

Josh said...

Re: Anonymous

I think Mathis' presence on the team will become all-too apparent every time he steps up to the plate with a runner on base.

mike in boston said...

On the one hand, your best attributes as a ballplayer are truly intangible, because there are precious few metrics that can fully measure the admiration of his former manager Mike Scioscia.

awesome. i'll be laughing about that all day.

while the downgrade from Molina is substantial, this will be mostly off-set by the increase in starts given to JPA. Any injury to the latter will just fast track D'Arnaud's arrival. Still, this is one of the more mysterious moves by AA.

Tao of Stieb said...

I didn't get into it in the piece, but I wondered if the Jays would call up d'Arnaud if JPA gets hurt.

I would almost assume that they'd rather go find a marginal guy who might be a .600 OPS hitter who could stand in for a few weeks.

It's kinda bad when your backup catcher isn't even really a back up.

Ice Cream Jonsey said...

This is an excellent series, and this is an excellent round-up.

Tony said...

@Tao- According to the Interwebs, the catcher in Vegas is... either Hector Alvarez or Brian Jeroloman. So I think one of those two would get the nod over Mathis. At least, I hope they would...

Anonymous said...

Given that the most likely uncertainty facing the Jays is how a young staff matures and two blue chip catchers develop, it seems to me that Mathis is a perfect fit. His influence day to day will show up far more than his spot starts. Coaches are coaches, while seasoned and smart veterens can mentor young players in a way coaches cannot.....look at what Doc's influence did to AJ and even Romero before he was traded.

George said...

I think Mike Soscia liked Mathis because in games Mathis caught, The Angel's winning percentage was .576. Otherwise, their WP was .564. That stat includes his lousy bat.
The other intangible is "Murphy Magic". John Buck had a career season with The Jays in 2010, not so much with The Fish. In his 2 years with The Jays, Jose Molina hit better than his career average. Mathis hit pretty well in the minors, so the hit tool is in there. It may just have been buried and needs some digging out.
Otherwise, we may have to DH for Mathis, and let the pitchers hit! ;=)

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember Mathis' Catcher ERA being more than a run lower than Napoli's or other counterparts with the Angels over a number of seasons. this stat is not one easily fit into traditional defensive metrics but there are certainly enough observations to have some statistical significance. Hopefully he can at least help Morrow with command.

gabriel said...

If there's one catcher who makes me really believe in game-calling, it's Jeff Mathis. No, not just because Scioscia believes it, but because of his consistently excellent cERAs.

Even so, I wonder if the Jays didn't see something in his swing that they think they can work on. Mathis was once highly-regarded as a hitting prospect, so there might be something latent that can be tapped upon. Even if he can improve to mediocre at the plate, that would be significant.