The Atlanta Braves had to go to great lengths to cover the catcher position during the 2021 season, and Jeff Mathis was another veteran backstop that made a cameo appearance. However, Mathis’ value to the club likely went way beyond his contributions on the field and he helped play a part behind the scenes in Atlanta’s championship run.
There were little to no expectations for Mathis coming into the season, with the exception that he could provide some veteran leadership for Atlanta’s young players.
2021 Season results
Mathis began the season at the alternate training site and was part of the Braves’ taxi squad. Atlanta selected his contract on May 2 when both Travis d’Arnaud and Alex Jackson were placed on the Injured List. Mathis appeared in three games while with the Braves going 0-for-9 with five strikeouts and an xwOBA of .063. He was designated for assignment on May 19 to make room for Kevan Smith who had just been acquired from Tampa Bay. He was outrighted to Gwinnett the next day.
However, Mathis never left Atlanta as was outlined by Jake Mintz in a recent article for Fox Sports. He remained on the taxi squad and for the next five months continued to work with the team and assist in game planning. Mathis told Mintz that he stayed ready while knowing that another opportunity was unlikely to come.
What went right? What went wrong?
Mathis has a career hitting line of .194/.252/.299 but has carved out a 17-year Major League career by being one of the most accomplished defensive catchers around. Having him around to assist in game planning while working with the other catchers and the pitching staff was a pretty nice luxury for Atlanta, even if he managed -0.2 fWAR across those three games this season. He could have filled in at any time should disaster have struck again and he was needed.
Road to the Title
On the field, Mathis appeared in three games, only one of which the Braves won. All of the games were relatively close, and as such, Mathis had -0.11% cWPA for the Braves despite just nine PAs. Given that he never reached base, it’s hard to say that he really did anything on the field that helped the Braves in their title pursuit — that likely goes to whatever he did off the field.
Outlook for 2022
Mathis told Mintz that he hasn’t yet decided whether he will retire or seek another opportunity. Even if his playing days are finished, Mathis will be working in baseball somewhere.