Whicker: Diamondbacks’ Jeff Mathis still a pitcher’s best friend
By Mark Whicker
LOS ANGELES — Those who find truth in formulas never understood Jeff Mathis, or his continued employment.
How can you hold down a baseball job when you don’t hit? And why is he playing when nobody wants him on a fantasy team?
Mathis has just put in his 11th major league season. His career OPS is .565, several rungs below the Mendoza Line for that statistical amalgam.
Yet he started the National League wild-card game in Phoenix on Wednesday, and he started Game 1 of the Division Series on Friday.
In a game gone drunk on offense, Mathis has created a one-man niche. He is the ace-catcher.
In Arizona he works with Zack Greinke, who left the Dodgers to sign a $206 million deal two years ago. In 2016 Greinke was 13-7 with a 4.27 ERA and a 1.273 WHIP (walks and hits, per innings pitched). That rose from a league-leading 1.66 ERA and 0.844 WHIP with the Dodgers in ‘15, when Greinke was runner-up for the Cy Young Award.
This season the Diamondbacks signed Mathis. One of his duties was catching Greinke’s starts. Mathis broke his hand on Aug. 22 and didn’t return until Sept. 30, but for the season Greinke was 17-7 with a 3.20 ERA and a 1.072 WHIP.
Mathis’ navigational skills are just part of it. He threw out 42.4 percent of runners attempting to steal a base this season, a career-high,. He was a first-round pick by the Angels in 2001 and was in the big leagues by 2007. They thought he would hit. He never really did, except for a memorable playoff against the Yankees in 2009.
Mathis was the defensive catcher and Mike Napoli the big hitter who sometimes caught, and the fantasy leaguers practically rioted whenever Mike Scioscia wrote Mathis into the lineup.
“I was lucky to be around a lot […]