Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Golden Leather and the Catching Conundrum

Hear that sound? It's thunder on the horizon. A storm's a' comin'. Board up the windows! Batten down the hatches! Put the cats in the cellar! Box up the mayonnaise! Here comes another patented Give 'Em Some Stankeye! anti-Mike Matheny, pro-A.J. Pierzynski tirade! The tsunamis are hitting the shore! Mothers are clutching their babies in horror! Frightened Japanese civilians are running wild in the streets of Tokyo, reciting badly dubbed English lines. Cats and dogs are living together! Mass hysteria! I'll try my best to keep this from turning into a brainless diatribe a la Ann Coulter, but I make no promises.

Congratulations to Omar Vizquel and Mike Matheny for winning Gold Gloves the other day. The numbers may not have shown them to be the best, but who cares? It's just nice to have the Boys in Black and Orange represented in the postseason awards after such a dismal year, and they both certainly looked awesome in the field, especially Vizquel. Both probably got their award based more on reputation than performance, as it almost always takes BBWAA voters like three years after the fact to recognize great defensive performance (maybe Brian Schneider will one day be recognized for his work behind the plate).

Anyway, speaking of Matheny, I find it interesting that all the hoopla surrounding him in the off-season was over how well he worked with the pitching staff, how great he was at calling games, how his defense saved boatloads of runs, and how the entire pitching staff was lining up to give him backrubs and whisper sweet nothings in his ear. He was the yin to Pierzynski's yang, the Neo to Pierzynski's Agent Smith.

God vs. The Devil?

Matheny's defense may have been great, but we know now that it had absolutely no positive effect on the standings. In fact, despite the praises being sung about his magical game-calling abilities and his rapport with the pitchers, the Giants pitching staff was absolutely horrific in the first half of the season before righting itself in August. Meanwhile, alleged clubhouse cancer A.J. Pierzynski went to the White Sox on a cheap one-year deal and, wouldn't you know it, their pitching staff turned into the best in the league, and his teammates had nothing but good things to say about him. The Sox went on to win the World Series, while the Giants floundered around under .500 and got beat out for 2nd place by the freaking Diamondbacks. If you want to get real stingy, here we go:

Giants 2004 Team ERA w/Pierzynski: 4.29
Giants 2005 Team ERA w/Matheny: 4.33

Granted, essentially the same, but if Matheny is such a god at handling a pitching staff, and A.J. is just a lout who'd rather finish a hand of poker than discuss opposing hitters, the why the hell didn't the team pitching improve dramatically? Shouldn't the White Sox pitching staff have fallen off a cliff instead of turning into the best in the league if Pierzynski is as bad as he was made out to be?

Now, I'm not trying to make Pierzynski into a martyr and Matheny into a pariah or anything. What I'm trying to say is that the numbers above and the difference in the two pitching staffs this season means nothing. I don't think anybody could honestly sit here and tell me that Pierzynski is a better backstop than Matheny, or that Pierzynski is a better clubhouse guy, yet the two catchers' pitching staffs in 2005 could not have been any different. If the Giants had had Pierzynski, the pitching would have sucked and the team would have sucked, and he'd still be simply labeled a braying jackass. Now he's a braying jackass who's also a playoff hero and suddenly a game-calling genius. If the White Sox had had Matheny there's a great chance they probably would have still won the World Series.

The moral of the story is that you pay guys money based on performance, not silly intangibles that can't be quantified or, for that matter, even consistently recognized. We hear a lot about Matheny's winning clubhouse demeanor. That's all well and good, but let's face it, when the season starts, it doesn't mean shit. As Bill Lee once said, "Give me 25 assholes and I'll show you a pennant winner."

So now Matheny is on the hook for two more years (possibly three with his option) because his glove and his personality are supposedly highly conducive to winning. Well, we know now that that's wrong, so what do we have to look forward to? Matheny just had a career half-season with the bat at 34, but hit like his usual self in the second half, and it's going to get a lot worse next year. Sometimes major leagues GMs can't distinguish between the difference between situation and performance when doling out guaranteed money, and, as in this case, they get burned.

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