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2017 Arizona Diamondbacks Review # 18: Jeff Mathis

Who needs offense when you catch would-be-base-stealers like butterflies and frame like a carpenter?

Arizona Diamondbacks v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game One Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
  • Date of Birth: March 31, 1983
  • 2017 Line: 60 Games, 203 PA, .215/.277/.323, .600 OPS, 2 HR 11 RBI
  • 2017 value: -0.6 bWAR
  • 2017 salary: $2.0 Million
  • 2017 SnakePit Rating: 6.31

2017 Analysis

If you were to look just at the offensive production, it would be easy to say that Jeff Mathis was a major detractor on the 2017 Arizona Diamondbacks. Even according WAR totals he was not considered very valuable; and let’s face it, if an outfielder had those offensive numbers, he would be back in AAA faster than a Randy Johnson fastball. However, the catching position is very unique and delves into a statistical haze where even advanced analytics have a hard time determining true worth. This comes as no surprise to those reading this site though, as evident by the 6.31 SnakePit rating, and most of you probably know that Mathis’ real value was shown in his abilities behind the plate to call a game, lead pitchers, and provide veteran presence. But quite possibly his most valuable contribution to the team was as Zack Greinke’s personal catcher in 2017. In 2016, Greinke struggled in his first year in the desert, but in 2017 he flourished and a major reason why was because his battery mate was Jeff Mathis. But just how much value did Mathis provide behind the plate?

According to BaseballProspectus, Jeff Mathis was worth 5.7 framing runs, and was the seventh best catcher in baseball by Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA). This mixed with the fact that he seemed to help out Zack Greinke immensely made him a valuable asset to this team despite his abhorrent offensive performances. In addition to his framing skills and work with Zack Greinke, he was the fourth best catcher in terms of throwing out runners (Min. 12 SB Attempts) in all of baseball with a 42.4% caught stealing rate.

Towards the end of the year Mathis suffered a fracture in his throwing hand and ended up missing more than a month. He came back just in time for the end of the regular season, and he started several playoff games as well.

2018 Prospects

Jeff Mathis is under contract for 2018 for $2.0 Million and will likely see about as much playing time as he did this year. By all accounts it appears that he will be Zack Greinke’s personal catcher once more next year, and will fill in for another 30 – 40 games if healthy. The analytical gray area that I mentioned earlier though will likely be muddied even further next year if Mathis’ offensive struggles continue to exacerbate. Mathis will be in his age-35 season in 2018 and you have to wonder how much further his offense can fall before the team decides that his defensive and catching skills are not worth it. I would imagine that he is safe for this season, since he is a cheap option and has already shown what he can bring to the table. As far as projections are concerned, Mathis was so bad offensively in 2017 that baseballreference.com actually has him regressing (or progressing?) in a positive direction. They peg him to hit 7 HR (WHAT?!?), 30 RBI, and triple slash .224/.284/.357.

Overall, I think that in 2018 we can expect a season almost identical to what we got from Jeff Mathis this year; a very solid defensive catching season with very, very limited offensive production. But if the pitching staff continues to succeed and Zack Greinke keeps pitching like an ace, I won’t care if he takes every pitch he sees in 2018.