September 1, 2010

Dead man walking

Okay, so I’m listening to the Angels/Mariners game on the radio last night (Tuesday) and the Angels and Marines are scoreless in the 7th and I hear Terry Smith say “The Angels need a two out hit from Jeff Mathis” and it hits me… I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more demoralizing line than that one.

And with that one line, this blog post was born.

Every time Mathis comes to the plate, my expectations drop considerably. Any hope I might have for a rally or just a simple single disappears completely. After all, Mathis has just five hits in his last 51 at bats and he’s hitting .193 on the season.

It would be one thing if Mathis actually made up for his horrible offense with outstanding defense, but that’s not the case, at least not in my opinion. I don’t understand Mike Scioscia’s man crush on Mathis; I just don’t. I know that Scioscia knows more about catching than I could ever dream of, but I still don’t see it.

The easy thing to do would be to just accept the idea that Scioscia knows more and shouldn’t be questioned, but that’s just not how I roll. I wish someone would ask Scioscia the questions that would clarify exactly why Mathis is his guy.

The way I see it, Mike Napoli is for all intensive purposes a “dead man walking.”

Napoli is uncertain about his future in Anaheim. He told Bill Plunkett of the O.C. Register “I have no idea,” Napoli said when asked what he thought the waiver news signaled about his future with the Angels. “I don’t know what my future is here. “I think it could go either way. I want to be able to play every day. I feel I have the potential to help the team out being in the lineup every day. … I’d just like to play.”

Plunkett goes on to write that Napoli said he has talked with Scioscia about playing time in the past and the conversation always turns back to “not getting it done on the defensive side.”

I’m sure smarter people than myself can tell me what it is that makes Mathis better; at least I assume as much. I’ve read all kinds of things over the past few years and none of it jives with what I see when I watch games at the stadium or on television.

My image of Mathis is of a guy who can’t throw runners out and is more likely to air mail a ball into the outfield when trying to throw someone out. He can’t hit and he can’t throw. What else is there? I guess he calls a whale of a game because I can’t imagine any other reason why he’s on a major league roster, let alone getting consistent starts over Mike Napoli or even Bobby Wilson.

Prior to the 2009 season I read about how his brother helped convert a barn on his property into a batting cage and how he worked on his hitting in the off season. The 2009 season rolled around and Mathis still couldn’t hit worth a darn. He then teased us with glimpses of a major league hitter by doing well in the play-offs and we were duped into believing he finally figured it out.

Enter 2010 and he comes out of spring training and looks as if he might pick up where he left off in 2009. After 10 games he was hitting .324 and then he suffered an injury to his wrist that put him on the DL. He never recovered and when he came back on July 19 his average continued to go down steadily (occasionally going up a point here and there) until he found himself hitting .236 on July 11. On July 15 he had three hits and his average jumped to .258 and then it was over. From July 16 on, his average never went above that .258 mark and plummeted all the way to where it is today at .193.

How bad is Jeff Mathis? A member of Halos Heaven named Suboptimal articulates just how bad Mathis is in his piece titled Jeff Mathis Making History Backwards.

If you take the time to read Suboptimal’s piece you will see that Mathis is monumentally bad. We are talking bad in epic proportions. I mean he’s one of the worst hitters in the history of baseball. Yes, he’s really that bad.

At the time that piece was written Mathis had a career batting average of .200 which ranked him 7th worst in the history of baseball for batters with at least 1,000 plate appearances which includes more than 3,000 players (a point hammered home by Suboptimal).

I’m thinking if your offense is that bad, your defense better be among the best in major league history. I’m thinking it better be more spectacular than Hall of Famer Johnny Bench. I mean we’re talking about defense that would put Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez in his prime to shame, right? His defense shouldn’t just be good; it should be Molina good as in Bengie, Jose or Yadier good.

Well, that’s not the case.

So as we look to the 2011 season (what Angel fan hasn’t done that?) I can’t help but believe that the catching situation is foggy. That being said, I also can’t help but believe that Napoli will be playing for a different team, thus the phrase “dead man walking.”

Napoli is making $3.6 million this year and despite his lack of playing time, leads the Angels in homeruns and is due for a pay increase. Regardless of whether or not that increase comes voluntarily from the Angels or via arbitration, Napoli’s salary is going up. I find it doubtful that the Angels will keep a guy making more than $4 or $5 million on their roster if they view that guy as a part time player.

If ever there was a candidate to be traded, it’s Napoli and even though his own manager might not like his game, he does have value. He can catch, play first base and DH and has Paul Bunyanesque power. His trade value is high right now and the Angels will deal him, in my opinion. It’s not something I’d like to see, but I believe it’s inevitable.

Of course the thought of Mathis as the man behind the plate makes me uneasy and it doesn’t make me feel confident about 2011. The hype behind Hank Conger seems to have faded somewhat after a good, but not great season at AAA and it seems likely to me that the Angels will keep him at Salt Lake City for another year, especially since I haven’t read any glowing reports about his defense (he’s made 13 errors). If defense is the main requirement for Scioscia, it’s likely Conger has more work to do.

That being said, Conger might be further along than I think and might play a signficant role in 2011. I suppose anything is possible.

What I do know is that the Jeff Mathis/Mike Napoli debate has been beaten into the ground on internet message boards and on AM 830’s Angels talk, but it’s a discussion that’s important to Angel fans. It’s murky. It’s volatile and it leaves Angel fans feeling uncertain and even confused.

I have no idea how it will play out, but I have to believe the catching “controversy” will have to be resolved this off season some how.


  1. They are all bad. Scoscia, Mathis, and Terry Smith. Lets go back to a better time of Gene Mauch, Bob Boone, and Bob Starr! I love your blog.

  2. Just to be clear... Even though this season has been incredibly frustrating, I wouldn't trade managers for anything. I also happen to enjoy Terry Smith a great deal. Thanks for reading.

  3. How do you measure success of a manager? Scoscia is past his prime. It's not an accomplishment that he's used 100+ lineups this season. That's an embarrassment. It's not like the team has been decimated by injuries. Sure, Morales hurt bad, but he had Napoli to fill in. He shouldn't be changing positions routinely. The only consistency with this team is losing. Terry Smith's southern drawl does not belong in Southern California. How about handing the duties over to a chuck finley and tim salmon? Why not incorporate some tradition and some homers into the booth. Rojas and Gubi are subpar and Mota is the worst. It's amazing that the organization tries to mask it's pro-hispanic hiring and emphasis, but they let their biggest hispanic asset go. As shaky as he was, Vlad was the glue that held that clubhouse together.

  4. Perhaps you could tell us how you measure the success of a manager? Past his prime? Did that happen this year or while he was winning three straight division titles? Just asking...

    As for Terry Smith - different strokes for different folks, I guess. I like Terry. As for Finley and Salmon - who's to say that they even have an interest in broadcasting? Last I heard Salmon was pretty intent on being at home with his children, coaching them in little league, etc. That being said, I have enjoyed the times when Mark Langston has filled in on broadcasts. I'm also not a fan of Mota...

    As for anyone making comments about whether or not Vlad should have been kept - I have nothing to measure that against. As far as I know, you're making those comments with 20/20 hindsight. Unless you can actually demonstrate that you thought letting Vlad go was a bad idea when it actually happened, I'll take those comments with a grain of salt.