August 10, 2011

The Jeff Mathis Dilemma

Whenever Jeff Mathis comes to the plate I cringe. Whenever he bats with men in scoring position, I expect the worst. When he bats at a crucial juncture of the game and there are two outs, I close my eyes.

And yet…

I really want Jeff Mathis to succeed. Yes, I really do because when all is said and done, I want the Angels to win. And therein lays the dilemma.

You see Mathis is monumentally and historically bad. How bad? Well ESPN's David Schoenfield sums it up pretty good: “It's hard to overstate just how poor a hitter Mathis truly is. For his career, he has a .197 batting average in 1,299 plate appearances. According to Baseball Reference, there have been just three others players in history to amass 1,300 PAs while batting below the Mendoza Line, and two of them, Mike Ryan and Ray Oyler, played much of their careers in the 1960s, arguably the most pitcher-friendly era in baseball history.”

I’m happy when he does something good offensively. I’m overjoyed when he makes a play that helps the team win a game on offense or defense and yet I have come to expect something far less from him after his seven seasons in the big leagues and because of that, I always fear that any positive output from him will earn him more playing time and that may ultimately cost the Angels a pennant.

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog ranting about my disdain for Mathis. I’ve heard hours and hours of complaints from fans calling in on talk-radio and from those at ball games or talking Angels baseball in any environment. I've read volumes of opinions and poured over tons of statistics that all point to how bad he is and yet - he plays on. We don’t get it; none of us do.

In yesterday's game against the Yankees, Jeff Mathis came up to bat with the bases loaded in the top of the sixth and much to my surprise, he delivered a ground rule double that scored two and had the ball not hopped the fence, it would have cleared the bases. Normally, when a play of that magnitude happens, I throw my hands in the air, cheer, high-five someone and scream woo-hoo; however, when Mathis hit that double, I shook my head, smiled a bit and thought to myself – “Go figure.”

Terry Smith had just got done telling the radio audience that Mathis was 0-6 this season with the bases loaded (which was probably just what needed to be said – so that something positive could happen because that seems to be the way baseball works a lot of the time).

It was kind of amazing to hear the play unfold.

Just this past Friday night against the last-place Mariners, Mathis came up to bat twice in key situations. Once with the bases loaded and the other time with two men on. In both instances, he failed miserably – striking out both times. These kinds of events aren’t forgotten.

So… it’s easy to see why so many Angel fans feel tormented, isn’t it? We expect the worst and hope for the best.

Here we are in August and the Angels are 12 games above .500 and just 1.5 games behind Texas. They are most definitely in the hunt and engaged in an intense pennant race. Emotions are high and nerves are frazzled. Jeff Mathis adds to the anxiety.

It’s clear he’s here to stay; at least for this season. Regardless of any and all rants on the matter, Mathis is going to receive significant playing time. I guess we’d all better get used to it. Some of us might even have to start actively cheering for Mathis.

Any volunteers?


Anyone out there? Anyone... anyone?

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