One quick glance at the Angels lineup reveals a very run-of-the-mill set of players; nobody really stands out. Howie Kendrick is batting a very good .303, but that’s as good as it gets right now.
Nobody is really good on the Angels.
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But it’s a cinch to tell who’s really bad.
Enter Jeff Mathis and his embarrassing stat line: .183 BA, 32 H, 12 RBI, .497 OPS. For a baseball player at any professional level, these numbers are simply unacceptable.
But for whatever reason, Angels manager Mike Scioscia is capable of looking past this abysmal offensive production. In fact, Mathis is currently the de facto starting catcher for Los Angeles. He has beaten Mike Napoli, Hank Conger and Bobby Wilson for the job.
Yes, Mathis has been chosen to start in favor of Napoli, who is tearing it up in Arlington with 13 home runs and a .276 batting average. These numbers certainly aren’t tops in the league, but good enough to put Napoli a cut above Mathis.
Conger, the rookie catcher who homered in his first-ever major league at-bat, is currently serving time in the minors. Meanwhile, Mathis and Wilson, two catchers who are clearly worse at swinging the bat than Conger, are gobbling up outs in Scioscia’s lineup.
Since Mathis entered the picture a few seasons ago, Scioscia has fed Angel fans time and time again the conception that Mathis is a cut above the rest when it comes to defense. And for a few years, fans have consumed that delusion without question.
Their patience with Scioscia’s stubbornness on the matter has paid off a few times; Mathis’s 2009 playoff performance was spectacular. He has been capable of a clutch hit once every blue moon, as well. But Mathis’s glorious ’09 campaign has quickly faded away in the shadow of his horrific performances in 2010 and 2011.
And quite frankly, the argument that his defense is good enough to keep him playing in an Angel uniform is insulting.
Mathis has played in 59 of the Angels’ 107 games this season. In those 59 games, Mathis has caught 14 baserunners stealing. His 26% caught-stealing percentage is decent, but not really enough to put him among the elite defensive catchers in the game. And given his horrific production with the bat, fans shouldn’t accept anything less than a defense that ranks among the game’s current greats.
There are a few things about Scioscia’s management that are clearly misguided, but forgivable. Placing Torii Hunter third in the batting order, for instance, is a decision based on Hunter’s constant offensive potential. Scioscia has relied on extensive scouting reports to make pitching substitutions, a strategy that has often backfired. Fans can forgive that strategy, though, because it comes as an informed decision.
Mathis being in the lineup, though, is quite possibly the most confounding decision in Scioscia’s career. In addition, this inexplicable, constant devotion to a clearly subpar player is ruffling feathers among the Angels faithful.
There may be a slight glimmer of upside to Mathis’s game. But at this point, Mike Scioscia seems to be the only man on this planet capable of seeing it as enough.