The Miami Marlins intended to start the 2013 season with Rob Brantly as the team's primary catcher. Unfortunately, Brantly struggled at the plate and behind it, and the Fish were left with very few options. Brantly was failing so badly at the plate that the team felt it needed to change its catching configuration, and given Brantly's problems defensively, it was not an unreasonable decision.
The problem was that the alternative backstop was none other than the immortal Jeff Mathis.
Mathis was acquired in the fire sale trade with the Toronto Blue Jays and was expected to be the team's primary backup. But with Brantly struggling so badly, the Fish eventually phased him and turned to Mathis, who in turn struggled at the plate in the way only Mathis can.
Jeff Mathis played about as well as we could expect from Jeff Mathis. His batting line was actually worse than his career .195/.255/.310 (.250 wOBA) line, which is saying something given that his career line is already atrocious. Brantly owned the second-worst batting line among all Marlins with more than 200 plate appearances, and Mathis was the only player he beat out, albeit by the tiniest of margins (.238 versus .236 wOBA). In fact, among all Major Leaguers with at least 200 plate appearances in 2013, Mathis was the fourth-worst in baseball, ahead of only illustrious names like Jeff Francoeur, Martin Maldonado, and Josh Phegley.
Unlike with Brantly, however, none of what Mathis did was disappointing. In fact, it was expected; Mathis is the worst hitter of the last decade with significant playing time. But at every stop, he not only somehow manages to make the roster but finds himself a decent amount of playing time. The Jeff Mathis experience seems to be about enthralling coaching staffs and general managers, making you believe he is infallible.
Part of his air of infallibility is the supposedly good work he does on defense. According to various defensive sources, he was anywhere between average to a net positive on defense in 2013. He did nab 15 out of 45 would-be basestealers in 2013, yielding a 33 percent caught stealing rate that beat out the league average. By the eyes alone, it did not seem as though he was having the sort of trouble of wild pitches that Brantly suffered all season long, and indeed he allowed about a league average rate of wild pitches and passed balls this season.
Much of the defensive credit given to him, however, was primarily from game-calling. Catcher ERA is hardly the most responsible determinant of game-calling, but pitchers did have a much better ERA and runs allowed per nine innings with Mathis behind the plate (3.15 ERA) versus with Brantly (4.37). One season says nothing, but with all the ranting and raving regarding his skill behind the dish, it is likely that Mathis has some game-calling and pitching influence. It is almost certainly not to the level displayed in one-year stats, but it may very well be there.
Even if it is, however, it is not nearly enough to make up for the terrible offense he put up this season. The Marlins are looking for replacements at catcher, which means that the team knows Mathis is not a long-term option. But he will be back, potentially in a starting role, next season thanks to a two-year extension he signed as a Blue Jay. The Marlins will have to endure more of the Jeff Mathis experience.