FanPost

Does Jeff Mathis Really Make Pitchers Better?

You hear a lot of talk, especially but not only from the Orange County Register's Mark Whicker, about how Jeff Mathis' pitch-calling skills make up for his vast offensive gap with Mike Napoli, and explain such curiosities as why he seems to be developing into John Lackey's personal caddy. Sample from Whicker:

Watch the games, listen to the pitchers. Why do you think Lackey had the confidence to throw that 3-and-2 curve to Teixeira Sunday with bases loaded, no out and a 2-run lead? Do you think he came up with that by himself? [...]

Ask anybody in the Angel organization what the key to the past seven-and-a-half years have been, and ask Bud Black, too. The Number One answer is the catcher-pitcher relationship.

Funny, I recall Lackey throwing 3-and-2 curves long before Jeff Mathis showed up, but let's tunnel into the assumption at hand: Is John Lackey a measurably different pitcher with Mathis behind the dish? Fortunately, Baseball Reference exists to answer just such questions. And the answer in this case is "oh hell no."

Here are the offensive statistics of hitters facing Lackey, with the top line indicating when Mathis was catching, the bottom line Napoli. As you can see, there is virtually no difference between the two lines:
G   PA   AB   R   H  2B 3 HR SB/CS BB  SO K/BB  BA   OBP  SLG  OPS      
31  892  816  81 201 36 3 24 17/1  55 175 3.18 .246 .304 .386 .690          
61 1670 1519 180 381 76 5 39 29/9 109 324 2.97 .251 .308 .384 .693


What about Jered Weaver? Nope, no appreciable difference. Though note that Mathis and Napoli have been given totally equal time catching Jered, instead of Lackey's two-thirds to one-third:

49 1283 1168 126 281 66 6 37 29/6  85 261 3.07 .241 .295 .402 .698
49 1183 1083 114 275 50 5 33 33/9  88 233 2.65 .254 .310 .401 .711


What about Joe Saunders? Again, no appreciable difference:

32  848  779  92 216 38 5 26 17/6  55 103 1.87 .277 .327 .439 .766
49 1208 1088 145 294 57 2 33 24/13 98 169 1.72 .270 .334 .417 .751


Kelvim Escobar? Bupkus:

14  368  329  41  89 16 3  5  6/3  36  77 2.14 .271 .343 .383 .726
21  543  494  60 133 34 2 11 17/5  40  99 2.48 .269 .323 .413 .736

Jon Garland? Forty-one points difference in OPS (in favor of Napoli) is the most so far, but across that sample size I wouldn't attach much meaning to it.

13  350  315  44  99 21 2  9  2/3  24  39 1.63 .314 .363 .479 .843
19  514  466  68 138 21 5 14  1/0  35  51 1.46 .296 .350 .453 .802


So where's all this big difference in Catchers ERA I keep hearing about? In just one of the six pitchers who've thrown to 350+ hitters with each man catching: Ervin Santana. Getta load of this split, which explains why Mathis catches 60 percent of Voodoo's starts:

46 1211 1111 127 270 50 5 32 25/8  77 269 3.49 .243 .298 .383 .682
31  783  696 108 196 46 6 30 11/4  72 129 1.79 .282 .350 .494 .844


Now, Ervin's had a pretty Jekyll/Hyde career, so I wanted to see if these numbers were the product of Mathis just getting the bulk of the starts in good Ervin years, while Napoli shouldered the load through the bad. Here's what I found:

2006 (good Ervin). In limited time, Mathis is somewhat better.

G   PA  AB  R   H 2B 3 HR SB/CS BB  SO K/BB  BA   OBP  SLG  OPS      
 4 109  98 15  24  7 0  3  0/1   7  13 1.86 .245 .296 .408 .704
11 297 260 36  68 14 2  9  2/2  29  43 1.48 .262 .334 .435 .769 

2007 (terrible Ervin). In less than half the time, Mathis is significantly better.

 5  95  81  9  18  3 2  1  2/0  13  24 1.85 .222 .337 .346 .683
11 268 242 39  72 18 2 13  7/2  25  45 1.80 .298 .366 .550 .915

2008 (All-Star Ervin). Mike Napoli stops catching him, and even then does a whole lot worse.

27 761 714 67 164 24 3 20 16/4  36 185 5.14 .230 .271 .356 .627
 4 110  98 13  27  7 0  3  0/0   8  24 3.00 .276 .330 .439 .769

2009 (injured Ervin). Mathis catches two outta three; still gets better results.

10 246 218 36  64 16 0  8  7/3  21  47 2.24 .294 .367 .477 .844
 5 108  96 20  29  7 2  5  2/0  10  17 1.70 .302 .374 .573 .947

Conclusion? I'd rather see Jeff Mathis catch Ervin Santana. But for every other pitcher on staff, I see no statistical evidence that he produces better results.

This Fan-Post is authored by an independent fan. Tell us what you think and how you feel.

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