Phillies: Jeff Mathis should back up catcher J.T. Realmuto

Philadelphia Phillies catcher Jeff Mathis (Jonathan Dyer/USA TODAY Sports)
Philadelphia Phillies catcher Jeff Mathis (Jonathan Dyer/USA TODAY Sports) /

Although Andrew Knapp showed great signs of improvement this past season, another catcher in Philadelphia Phillies spring training camp should come away with the nod as the backup catcher to J.T. Realmuto for the 2021 season — non-roster invitee Jeff Mathis.

Mathis is a well-traveled 37-year-old veteran with eye-popping offensive numbers. No, not eye-popping in a good way, but rather numbers so abysmal at the plate. It may be confusing why he’s rostered each year, but when you look at his defensive numbers, it’s easy to understand.

Mathis played in 110 games over the past two seasons with the Texas Rangers. Over 290 at-bats across those two seasons, he slashed just .159/.212/.252. The highest OPS Mathis has ever posted in a full season was .642 back in 2012 with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Jeff Mathis brings intriguing value other than offensive numbers at the plate.

In his 16 seasons in the big leagues, teams have looked past Mathis’ hitting because of how much of a difference-maker he is defensively. His defensive output and work with the Rangers pitching staff over the past two years earned him another shot at the majors.

Throughout his career, Mathis has made a difference for some of the league’s best pitchers. When Mathis was with the Miami Marlins, he was the primary catcher for the late Jose Fernandez. The 2013 National League Rookie of the Year Award winner posted a 1.56 ERA with Mathis behind the dish. And, when Mathis moved onto the Arizona Diamondbacks, he became the batterymate to fellow All-Star Zack Greinke.

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Mathis isn’t just someone you pair with a young pitcher, but a player who can maximize a veteran’s effectiveness. The 2019 season was when Mathis’ defensive impact and presence behind the plate came into the forefront of Rangers baseball. Lance Lynn and Mike Minor finished top 10 in Cy Young Award voting. Mathis caught in more than half (86) of the team’s 162 games — including 50 of the combined starts between the two pitchers. When Mathis was behind the plate, the ERA of the duo was 3.37. When someone else caught, their ERAs were a combined 4.65. This shows a direct correlation between pitcher success and Mathis being behind the plate.

Jeff Mathis could be an immediate difference-maker on the Phillies roster.

With catcher being the hardest defensive position in baseball, you can excuse the poor offensive numbers if the catcher can drastically affect a pitching staff like he has. Throughout his career, Mathis has been tremendous at framing pitches. He boasts a career FRAA (framing runs above average) of 93.8. This means that Mathis has saved more than 93 runs from scoring just from how well he frames his pitches.

Although Knapp made great offensive strides in 2020, the Phillies need someone to come in and help elevate the pitching staff when J.T Realmuto is not behind the plate. Mathis should be the Phillies backup catcher this coming season.

He just might take Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler to Cy Young Award contention.

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