Editor's note: I'm feeling a little under the weather, so there will not be much publishing today. Sorry everyone. -MJ
In last night's 6-5 loss to the New York Mets, Miami Marlins broadcasters Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton mentioned that starting catcher Jeff Mathis was hot. Indeed he is. You might be surprised to hear that Mathis is hitting .310/.403/.345 (.331 wOBA) in the month of July. While we have an entire bag of historical data that says that that will not continue, it is at least a praiseworthy accomplishment that he was able to perform as well as he has this month.
But in the previous evening's 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, Rich and Tommy praised Mathis for something that usually does not earn much positive attention. After the second inning, Mathis was frustrated by the performance of Jose Fernandez and himself, after Fernandez gave up two early runs. Supposedly, Mathis was upset with his own pitch calling, as he felt he was asking for too many fastballs.
Later in the game, as Fernandez delivered a beauty of a performance against the Pirates, Rich and Tommy chimed in to compliment Fernandez, but they could not leave Mathis untouched. Mathis was praised for his "intensity" in throwing a fit in the dugout and his ability to fix the pitch-calling problems and lead Fernandez to a spectacular start.
Now, I'm not one to take credit away from a catcher; we still do not know just how much catchers influence a ballgame with their numerous responsibilities, particularly with game-calling. But it sounded as though the announcers were praising Mathis for:
- Having done something wrong
- Having thrown a fit for it in the dugout
- Having fixed his own problem
I can accept praising him for the third point, but it seems odd that the first two were also seemingly applauded. Now Mathis is getting complimented for doing wrong things and fixing them!
But that is part of the Jeff Mathis experience. His enthralling mystique seems to have no limits. He is an infallible magnet of respect. He has transcended beyond the respect earned by traditionally poor-hitting backup catchers; his reputation now is that of an elite game-caller and defensive catcher who, hey, sometimes he doesn't hit so well, OK? Can you blame the guy? After all, he's only carrying the pitching staff on his college-athlete knees!
When Mathis was below the Mendoza Line this season, the focus was either on the few hits he did have (remember how many times his walk-off grand slam was mentioned?) or his tremendous defense. As soon as his line crept past that mark, suddenly Mathis was "hot" at the plate and could do no wrong anywhere. Considering that he was primarily hitting singles, Mathis was still considered so hot that he permanently replaced Rob Brantly for the starting catcher spot.
In a lost season in which the Marlins have nothing to play for, they decided to start a veteran backup catcher over a young prospect and allow that prospect to rot on the bench with inconsistent plate appearances.
That is the power of Jeff Mathis.
Everyone around the Marlins has seemingly fallen under the mystique of Jeff Mathis, and it does not seem as though it will change anytime soon. He has been excellent on defense, and it is arguable he is having a second consecutive "good year" at the plate (for him). It seems as though he is legitimately walking more often this season due to cutting down on his swings. He probably has even called a good game. But that bat, no matter how hot it seems right now, is still league-worst, and it seems the Marlins and all their affiliated parties will do anything to avoid that criticism and continue to heap praise on him. For a player who has heard this all of his career despite the obvious flaws in his game, it must feel natural to be praised.