The Mathis Line: a new frontier of mediocrity

Jeff Mathis has had a tough go since becoming a big leaguer. He doesn’t hit particularly well, his defense is distinctly average and he certainly seems to be on screen every time something goes horrifically wrong for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Let’s make no mistake about it, Jeff Mathis is a bad major league baseball player.

The most interesting part of his mediocrity, in this writer’s opinion, is how unlikely it is. That’s not to say there is a bevy of talent in Mathis’ body waiting to explode into the next Johnny Bench—under no circumstances will that happen—but there is a serious argument to be made for “The Mathis Line” to replace “The Mendoza Line” as we forge further into the 21st century’s baseball history. I would like to propose said line to all of you.

The comparison to the traditional Mendoza Line is certainly fitting for Mathis. His career .196 batting average is among the 100 worst all-time marks for batters who have over 1,000 plate appearances. Mathis’ average is good for one spot better than Rich Morales, who had a horrid career for the White Sox and Padres in the late 1960s and early 1970s, while putting him one spot behind Sam Jones, a pitcher, who played from 1914-1935. To make things worse, both players have higher walk rates than our protagonist.

Mathis’ on-base plus slugging percentage is equally staggering. With a career OPS of .561 Mathis ranks almost exclusively among the who’s who of pitchers and all-time worst batters in major league baseball. For instance, Mathis narrowly beats out Art Nehf in the all-time OPS rankings. In 1924, Nehf once had one of the best offensive seasons for a pitcher and his five home runs in one season has been bested only twice by pitchers in the last decade. Mike Hampton hit seven in 2001, while Carlos Zambrano hit six in 2006. Mathis’ 2008 season in which he hit nine home runs is the lone campaign where he topped those three pitchers.

Perhaps the most telling stat of these is Mathis’ career scaled runs created per PA (wRC+) which is a paltry 45, with 100 the average. Of the approximately 3,700 major leaguers who have registered 1,000 PAs in their careers, Mathis ranks 110th worst of all time. Mathis scores in the third percentile in all of baseball history in wRC+, a number which may be the best measure of a players’ offensive production. Jeff Mathis is a living, breathing, playing equivalent to a last place major league team. This coincides with the fact that he is dead last among in wRC+ this season.

Currently, of all major leaguers with over 230 PAs, Mathis holds, or challenges for, last place in every semi-meaningful statistic. Three examples include the following:

.180 BA—second worst
.484 OPS—Second worst
27 wRC+—worst

With this in mind, I propose the Jeff Mathis rule: For every category you wish to rank, anyone who falls in the bottom three percent is below “The Mathis Line.”

Consider the following players below “The Mathis Line.” Using a small test group of the 156 players who have at least 400 PAs anoints the bottom five in each category with the dubious distinction:

AVG: Adam Dunn, Kelly Johnson, Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, Miguel Olivo, Justin Smoak (Olivo and Smoak tied)

OPS: Alex Rios, Adam Dunn, Orlando Cabrera, Aaron Hill, Alex Gonzalez

wRC+: Alex Rios, Orlando Cabrera, Adam Dunn, Alex Gonzalez, Alcides Escobar

By keeping The Mathis Line proportional to the test group you figure out which players are truly Mathis-esque amongst the type of player you’re examining. Jeff Mathis would never be among the 400 PA group because no manager would send him to the plate 400-plus times a season as an everyday player—the regular players in the above three examples give us an idea of who is Mathis-esque. Feel free to apply this rule to any qualifications and make the corresponding inferences.

At 28 years old, Mathis is in his prime.

Once again I declare: Jeff Mathis is playing the best baseball he will ever be physically capable of playing barring some sort of religious intervention.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Whether Jeff Mathis is remembered as the Mario Mendoza of this generation remains to be seen, but if the status quo holds Mendoza will still have bragging rights over Mathis. Over the course of Mendoza’s 1981 season—his best as a pro—he was a 0.7 WAR player; Mathis’ best season to date was 2007 when he managed 0.2 WAR.

While Mathis will never be remembered for his stellar use of a bat, his slick defensive plays or his effortless base running, maybe, just maybe, he will be remembered for the bar he set for batters everywhere and how many of them hit it while trying to jump over it each season.

References & Resources
All stats—historical and current—came courtesy of Fangraphs.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
12 years ago

Seriously, what happened to him? He was a pretty good hitter in the minors, and a highly ranked prospect. For some reason, he cannot hit in the majors.

Paul G.
12 years ago

So they traded Mike Napoli why again?

Downing Rules
12 years ago

Great story at Halos Heaven on the same subject just about one year ago:

True Grich
12 years ago

Mediocrity would be an upgrade for Mathis.  You shouldn’t flatter him so.

Greg Magarian
12 years ago

Sorry to nit-pick, but what you’re describing isn’t so much a line as a zone.  Calling it the Mathis Zone would differentiate it as a new-stat kind of concept.  Just a thought.

12 years ago

this is all scioscia faults. mathis sucks, but he shouldnt be allowed to fail this bad. Only scioscia can stop it. We need to get rid of scioscia and hatcher.  Then reagins. Bring in good people.

12 years ago

Every time Mathis gets up with RISP, I figure I know it’s a good time for a beer run. What’s worse is this article says nothing of his AWFUL defense. If pitchers have a great ERA with him behind the plate it’s only because of the rest of the team’s better defense. I’ll agree with Greg. Sciocia is developing a bad reputation for pulling the plug early on some players and letting others (mathis) develop their awful skills. His perpetual ineptitude is embarrassing for a team that “prides” itself on developing talent.

12 years ago

How could you miss Chris Getz in the OPS category?  His OPS is worse than Alex Gonzalez and Aaron Hill, and at 407 PAs he qualifies for your list.

Marc Schneider
12 years ago

Not to be a grammar police, but you made the mistake that many people do in confusing mediocrity—which is essentially below average—with horrible.  A mediocre player wouldn’t be the worst player in the world, just a so-so, nothing special.  Mathis sounds like he is much worse. 

On the other hand, you need to keep things in perspective. Saying he is a bad major league player isn’t exactly the worst thing in the world.  He is still one of the best baseball players in the world.  People get spoiled, obviously, but he has been able to do something that most people could not. There are many, many players in the minors that never make it to the majors. Give the man some credit for that.

12 years ago

Not to be the usage police, but your point has nothing to do with grammar.