The Texas Rangers have been rolling for the first half of the season. In a year when just about everybody thought that the Rangers were in rebuild mode, they have shocked the baseball world with a winning record of 47-40 along with a potential AL MVP in Joey Gallo, and an AL Cy Young award winner in Mike Minor.
Despite the Cinderella story the Rangers are turning into this season, they have one major flaw that might end up torching their hopes of getting into the playoffs this year. No, I am not referring to the lack of pitching Texas has struggled with notoriously over the past few years. I’m talking about the absolute travesty of a catching platoon Texas baseball fans have endured all season long.
So far this year, the Rangers have had 3 catchers: Jeff Mathis, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Tim Federowicz. This trio of “bad-news backstops” currently has a combined WAR of -1.3 this season, and the only bright spot with these guys so far has been Kiner-Falefa’s injury that brought Federowicz to the Texas Rangers.
Like 99.9% of all baseball fans, I had no idea Tim Federowicz even existed until he was all of a sudden batting ninth on a Rangers lineup card. Surprisingly enough, Federowicz is the only catcher the Rangers have had with a positive WAR in the 2019 season (0.2). Even though the Rangers only brought Tim on as a temporary replacement, he has provided more statistical value, (in significantly less time) than Mathis or Kiner-Falefa.
Since Kiner-Falefa has been injured for awhile and is still figuring out how to even be a full-time catcher, I can’t give him too much slack for having a pretty sub-par year thus far. To be honest, the real reason why I even chose to write about this topic, is not because of Tim or Isiah. It’s because of the utterly painful season that Jeff Mathis is having, yet no one seems to be talking about it.
For my fellow Ranger fans, you probably are already aware of the miserable year that Jeff Mathis is having. However, my guess is that you have no idea how bad it truly has been roughly 90 games into the season. Mathis is currently slashing at a .151/.205/.214 line, which is good for a wretched OPS+ of 9 and an equally disgusting -1.2 WAR. This is so bad, that even in the limited amount of plate appearances that Mathis has had, he is considered the worst player in baseball, according to WAR, with that abysmal stat-line.
It’s pretty clear Mathis has been garbage at the plate this year, but how has he fared at his position at catcher? Well to Jeff’s credit, he had been above major league average in CS% (caught stealing percentage) every year since 2012. This year though is a different story–currently league average CS% is at 28%, while Mathis’ CS% is currently at 10%.
That’s right, NINE out of every ten batters have reached base when stealing on Mathis this year… It makes even more sense when you dig just a little bit into Statcast and see that Mathis has the second worst pop time to 2nd AND 3rd out of all MLB catchers. For reference, Federowicz and Kiner-Falefa are ranked 33rd and 50th (out of 84 catchers) in this same category.
The 2-year, $6.25 million dollar investment the Texas Rangers made on Mathis has failed to a point where I am genuinely shocked they have not designated him for assignment yet. Just recently, the Chicago White Sox bit the bullet and dropped Yonder Alonso because of how poor he was playing. Alonso unfortunately only mustered up a -1.1 WAR in 67 games this year and had a contract worth roughly three times more than Mathis’.
The question I find asking myself the most is, why in the world did we not re-sign Robinson Chirinos for the 2019 season? He was fairly affordable, had been with the club for the longest amount of time since the retirement of Pudge Rodriguez, and yet the Rangers front office chose to move on to a “better” defensive catcher in Jeff Mathis. Chirinos now is having a career year over in Houston with his new team, and although he isn’t an all-star, he has been putting up consistent numbers to be considered as a top 5 catcher in the American league. I digress.
To wrap this up, it’s pretty evident that catchers intrinsically don’t provide as much offense as other positions due to their vital defensive role in the game of baseball. I understand that Mathis has historically been an excellent defensive catcher and that Kiner-Falefa is still a work in progress. But, I think with any and every team contending for a postseason spot, you want to give your guys the very best opportunity to go out and win ballgames. Mathis sadly has performed worse than replacement level offensively AND defensively. There is zero denying that.
If Rangers GM, Jon Daniels, can make the tough decision to say goodbye to Robinson Chirinos after his 6-season stint with the Rangers, he should be able to make the decision to fix the current catastrophe behind the plate and part ways with the players hurting his Texas Rangers.