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Countdown to Arizona Diamondbacks Opening Day: D-26, Jeff Mathis

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Defense first, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Miami Marlins v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

We asked you to rank the 40-man roster along with the 16 non-roster invitees to spring training, and every day between now and the eve of Opening Day, we’ll have a profile of one of those Diamondbacks.

D minus 26: Jeff Mathis

  • Date of birth: March 31, 1983
  • Ht/Wt: 6’0”, 205 lbs
  • Position: Catcher
  • Status: 40-man roster
  • Bats/Throws: R/R
  • 2016 MLB numbers: 41 games, 132 PA, .238/.267/.333, 2 HR, 15 RBI
  • SnakePit Rating: 5.02 [pattern of votes below]

It’s safe to say Mathis is not signed for his bat. Indeed, of the 2,357 players since the start of the 20th century with 2,000+ career PAs, only seven have a lower OPS+, one of whom is Warren Spahn. A quick aside: Bill Bergen. How do you play 11 years in the majors batting .170 and hitting a total of two home-runs? Both inside-the-parkers, incidentally. Actually, maybe not so much an aside, because Bergen’s forte, like Mathis, was defense. And it tells you a lot about Mathis’s defense that the D-backs signed him to a multi-year deal, despite a career high OPS+ of 81. Which came a dozen seasons ago, and was based on three trips to the plate. Since then? A high of 72.

No, it’s clear Mathis is here for skills like pitch-framing, and it’s already looking likely he’ll end up being Zack Greinke’s personal catcher. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he also catches some Robbie Ray starts, because few pitchers on the team would benefit more from getting a few borderline balls turned into strikes. This is perhaps hinted toward by comments at the time of the signing, from GM Mike Hazen (emphasis added): “With Jeff, we're getting a plus defender, game-caller and teammate. “His veteran leadership on and off the field will be very valuable in the development of the young core of our club.” Sounds to me like he won’t just be Zack’s plaything.

Certainly, if you believe, and it’s a credible argument, that what Mathis brings with the glove outweighs the loss on offense, then we should be looking to use him as often as possible. He has started as many as 90 games at catcher, but that was back in 2008. A more likely mark is the 70 from 2013 - hopefully not the 36 times he started for Miami all last year. Health all-round permitting, that should cover all of Greinke and Ray’s outings in 2017, and if some of his abilities can rub off on the likes of Oscar Hernandez as well, so much the better for Arizona.

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