As we continue with our Marlins season ending grades, we move on to the last remaining position in the field, the catcher. Last season, the Marlins netted young catcher Rob Brantly in a trade with the Detroit Tigers. Many felt that Brantly was the future for the Marlins at the catcher position, and since the future is now for the Marlins, the job was Brantly’s to lose coming out of spring training. The Marlins also acquired catcher Jeff Mathis in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays during the offseason, with the expectation of Mathis tutoring the young Brantly as his backup. Unfortunately for the Marlins, neither player was able to cement themselves as a bona fide starter for years to come.
We will start with the future of the Marlins behind the plate, Rob Brantly. After a promising small sample last year, many of us were willing to put up with the young catcher’s deficiencies behind the plate, in exchange for his decent bat. What we received instead was a very green catcher behind the plate who was never able to get his bat going. Just how bad was Brantly behind the dish? In 55 completed games catching, he actually tied for the most passed balls in the league with 9. Both of the players he tied with had at least 100 games behind the plate. He also only threw out 28 percent of baserunners stealing.
The defensive struggles were not that surprising though. What was surprising was the young catcher’s sudden inability to hit the baseball. His slash line was .211/.263/.265. That is almost 80 points, more than 100 points and almost 200 points less than last year for each respective statistic. Things got so bad for Brantly that midway through the season he lost his starting job. After riding the pine for a while, the Marlins front office decided that it would be more beneficial for him to head down to the minor leagues and work out his issues, a move that I whole heartedly agreed with. Brantly ended up finishing with a disappointing WAR of -1.5. Brantly is still young though and should have his best seasons ahead of him, nevertheless, this is one season Brantly would probably like to forget.
Brantly’s struggles opened the door for Jeff Mathis to get a lot more playing time than originally planned. While Mathis’ struggles hitting were somehow worse than Brantly’s, he was the antithesis behind the plate. Mathis was top 5 in caught stealing percentage in the National League. More importantly than that stat, was Mathis’ ability to lead this young pitching staff. He was masterful calling games behind the plate and getting the most out of the young pitchers that the Marlins continually sent out to the mound. It is not a coincidence that the Marlin’s second half pitching success coincided with Mathis becoming the regular catcher.
All of the praise I can heap on Mathis behind the plate comes with an asterisk. Mathis can’t hit. Not even a little bit. Here is the thing though, we know this. Believe it or not, his slash line of .181/.251/.284 is right around his career averages. That is how good he is behind the plate. Even with those ridiculously low numbers hitting, he still ended up with a war of -0.3, which is saying something. His lack of production at the plate was to be expected, his mastery behind it was even better than advertised.
For all the good that I saw with Mathis leading this pitching staff, it doesn’t change the fact that the Marlins were dead last in WAR at the catcher position, as they were with numerous other positions this season. A -1.8 WAR is just dismal. It is difficult for a statistic to calculate how one position affects another one, and the WAR stat doesn’t really try so I will give just a little bit of leeway here. An above average catcher can really help out a pitching staff. That being said, something has to change at the catcher position if the Marlins are going to improve next year.
What do you think about Miami’s catchers this season? Would you like to see Miami chase an upgrade this offseason? Let us know in the comments below.