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7.08.2005

Enjoy It While It Lasts 

"Why do you hate Mike Matheny so much?"

I got that question a couple weeks ago from the A-2-The-B, a.k.a. Benito's Widow. I laid out my case: atrocious hitting to complement overrated defense and $10 million that could have been wisely spent elsewhere.

He's This Year's Neifi.

Leave it to Matheny to hold up a mirror to my face to show me the ugly, twisted mask my hatred has produced. I don't know who I am anymore. My world is upside down. Call it fluke, call it small sample size, call it Jesus Christ Hallelujah on a Popsicle Stick, but Matheny is arguably the best hitting catcher in the National League.

His on base percentage is a dreadful .303, yes, but the .449 slugging after tonight's home run and double is the best among NL starting catchers. His 9 homers is tied for tops; his 42 RBI put him alone in the lead. Roughly measured, he's having a better offensive year than Mike Piazza. Piazza is in painful decline, but still, when did you ever think you'd read that sentence?

One could argue that OBP should be weighted more heavily than SLG, and thus Matheny's inability to take a walk once in a while should count more heavily against him. But he's batting eighth. Unless Noah Lowry is batting ninth, it's advisable for Matheny to swing at anything hittable with two outs and men on base.

He's done well doing just that. Here's his line with runners in scoring position:

49 AB / 18 H / 8 2B / 2 HR / 8 BB / 7 K

With runners in scoring position and two outs:

20 AB / 9 H / 5 2B / 8 BB / 4 K

Obviously some of those walks are intentional, but what's shocking (even with such a small sample size) is the power. He's hitting balls hard in clutch situations, not just doinking them into the outfield, which makes me think that this success isn't dumb luck but the result of a consistent, focused approach at the plate. Wait for a pitch to drive and put a swing on it. It's easy to be lucky with singles; it's much harder to luck into doubles.

This all could come crashing down; Matheny's previous high SLG% is .362, back when he was a spry 29 year old.

Even if he continues at this offensive pace, it's arguable that he's still not worth the fat contract Sabean gave him. Especially when Yorvit Torrealba as a starter likely would have produced similar offensive numbers and equal if not better defense at a fraction of the cost.

Best-case scenario: Matheny stays freakishly hot the rest of the year, Sabean unloads him for two can't-miss prospects over the winter, and Torrealba assumes his rightful place behind the dish 135 times next year.

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