- Matt Meyers
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With the advancement of baseball statistics, it's becoming less and less common to see clubs make egregious lineup mistakes. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when a manager could talk himself into putting a player into the lineup if he thought enough of the guy's intangibles. Nowadays, it isn't so easy to sell that to a media (not to mention an ownership) that's wise to the ways of OBP, isolated power and OPS+.
There are some poor decisions that slip through the cracks, though, one of which is ongoing and as inexplicable as any playing time Neifi Perez ever got.
Take a look at the following players' career lines:
Player A: .197/.274/.328 in 596 PAs
Player B: .248/.362/.494 in 866 Pas
Yeah, it looks like Player B is quite a bit better. But what if Player A is improving and the career stats don't show it? Let's check out last season:
Player A: .194/.275/.318 in 328 PAs
Player B: .273/.374/.586 in 274 PAs
But what if Player A is younger? Well, he is, but only by a year. Player A just turned 26, while Player B turned 27 in October. And no, this is not a situation where Player B is beefing up his numbers in a platoon role. He is a right-handed hitter who has a career OPS of .873 against righties and .852 against lefties.
So the question becomes, "What could possibly possess a team to put Player A in the lineup as much as Player B?" Ask the Angels, because they continue to give Jeff Mathis (Player A) slightly more playing time than Mike Napoli (Player B). And really, it's inexplicable.
Mathis has always been a bit of an organizational favorite, as he was a highly regarded prospect for years. A supplemental first-round pick in 2001, Mathis was anointed the Angels' catcher of the future, while Napoli, a 17th-round pick a year earlier, fought an uphill battle to get noticed.
Even if you concede Mathis is a far superior defensive player, it would never be enough to make up for the chasm between their offensive production. To put it in further perspective, we can look at Baseball Prospectus' Positional Marginal Lineup Value, which measures a player's production relative to the average player at his position. Last season, Napoli had a PMLV of 23.0, while Mathis' was -18.0. That's a difference of 41 runs! And remember, this is not a rate stat. If you consider that a full-time catcher plays about 130 games in a season, we can use PLMVr, which measures PLMV per game, to see how each would do if they had played 130 games last season. If you take Napoli's PLMVr and multiply it by 130, you get 46.15, and for Mathis you have -30.16. When you look at it that way, you could argue that the Angels voluntarily sacrificed upwards of 70 runs of offense by not using Napoli as their regular catcher. And the most amazing part of all this is not that the Angels used Mathis more than Napoli, it's that they won 100 games in spite of it.
Both Napoli and Mathis are off to hot starts this year, but there is no reason to believe that Mathis will sustain it. And after Vladimir Guerrero, Napoli might actually be the team's best hitter. It's pretty clear the Halos aren't going to walk away with the AL West again. So if they want to win their third straight division crown, manager Mike Scioscia needs to get Napoli in the lineup a whole lot more.
Matt Meyers is a contributing editor for ESPN The Magazine.
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