Career Year, Meet Gary Matthews Jr.

Following the 2006 season, Gary Matthews Jr. signed a much maligned 5-yr/$50 mil contract with the Los Angeles California Angels of Los Anaheim. The deal was predicated on the assumptions that Matthews’ performance level over 147 games in 2006 could be sustained, and that he had finally come into his own, increasing his win values total from +2.1 to +3.1 to +4.4. Ironically, Matthews went from being a somewhat underrated player to arguably the most overrated player in the game thanks to his tremendous career year.

What happened in 2006 should have been taken with a bit more than a grain of salt, though, as Matthews defied his general modus operandi. Up until that point, he had been a solid example of a no-hit, all-field player. Since a run is a run is a run, Matthews still produced at an above average clip from 2002-05, averaging +2.3 wins/yr. In 2006, though, Matthews became the full time centerfielder for the Rangers and saw his UZR drop significantly. Normally the difference could be written off thanks to positional adjustments but since Matthews had played centerfield for extended periods earlier in his career and had spent plenty of time at all three outfield spots, his adjustment swing was not nearly as dramatic as the -7.5 runs for LF/RF compared to the +2.5 for CF would suggest.

Despite the defensive dropoff, Matthews made “the play” that season, a majestic home run robbing catch that likely needs no further explanation. Offensively speaking, Matthews and his .349 BABIP produced one heck of a season with the bat, putting together a .313/.371/.495 line with a career best .367 wOBA. So now it makes perfect sense: he had cemented himself with a reputation for being a great fielder the previous several seasons, benefited from insane highlight reel catches despite an overall defensive decline, and put up very appealing offensive numbers. This isn’t to say that the aforementioned reasoning completely justifies the acquisition, but at least we can see how the decision may have come to be.

In his first season with the Angels, Matthews saw his defense slip further, this time to -9 runs. Couple that with the expected offensive regression hovering around the league average and a +0.9 win player emerges. Perhaps convinced that the signing was a mistake, the Angels decided to rectify the situation by signing Torii Hunter to a 5-yr/$90 mil contract that very offseason. With Garret Anderson and Vladimir Guerrero already in the mix, Matthews lacked a permanent position last season, splitting time between the three outfield spots. His aggregate defensive mark stayed poor, at -7 runs, and his hitting worsened to -10 runs, making Matthews the fourth least productive position player in baseball last season (min. 450 PA).

This season, the Angels will return Hunter and Guerrero, have replaced Anderson with Bobby Abreu, and will also need to delegate plate appearances to the re-signed Juan Rivera. Matthews has virtually no shot at an everyday job but has expressed his distaste for anything but such a role. Even though Abreu, Guerrero, and Hunter are all in their decline phase, they are more productive players than Matthews. Unfortunately, Matthews projects to post offensive numbers similarly to his first year as a Halo, placing his upside somewhere in the +1.2 to +1.4 wins range. With 3 yrs/$33 mil remaining on the deal, teams are simply not going to be inquiring about Matthews’ availability unless the Angels pay a big chunk of the salary.

Raul Ibanez, a more consistent player, received a similar contract this offseason and even that was considered to be in poor taste relative to the market. Matthews benefited greatly from a career year and will be paid handsomely to boot, but if the past two seasons are any indication he is no longer a major league starter and his ego needs to regress just like his numbers.



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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.


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vivaelpujols
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vivaelpujols
7 years 5 months ago

Very nice last sentence Eric.

Chad
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Chad
7 years 5 months ago

This signing was the deal that made me start to lose my fandom of the Angels. I now am more of a general baseball fan, and I pay much more attention to the Dodgers than I used to. Even the Rays, cause they have old Angels bench coach Joe Maddon.

But after seeing the Angels pass up on Beltran (who may not have signed, but who knows), stick with Steve Finely instead of Figgins, and then sign GMJ to a MONSTER deal….the romance was over. It was the end of my baseball youth.

Chuck
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Chuck
7 years 5 months ago

I also believe his name was associated with HGH after his breakout season. Here is his arc….his career was in the tank, he used PED to become viable and then probably went off them when he signed his big money deal. End of story. While clean he is a marginal 5th outfielder

Paul Byrd
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Paul Byrd
7 years 5 months ago

Well said, Chuck. With $50m at stake, it’s hard not to bump up with Popeye’s magic spinach.

Good to see Mike Piazza’s name finally coming out in these allegations as well. That is how 63rd round draft picks ascend to All-Star status, no matter what Lasorda thinks.

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
7 years 5 months ago

Why is that good to see? Are we now buying into the Murray Chass school of sensationalism? Since when did innuendo, improbability, and potential scouting failure become the basis of legitimate allegations?

Teej
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Teej
7 years 5 months ago

Damn, I should get some PEDs so I can hit over 400 homers while playing the most physically demanding position on the field. Never realized it was that easy.

Bearskin Rugburn
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Bearskin Rugburn
7 years 5 months ago

I love how everyone still mercilessly makes fun of the Angels’ geographic association. This joke has had more steam than… well more than I do apparently.

Joe
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Joe
7 years 5 months ago

“Los Angeles California Angels of Los Anaheim”

It’s fresh. It’s original. It’s comedy gold! GOLD I tells ya!

Mike
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Mike
7 years 5 months ago

I’m fairly new here and one question I have is in regards to the run values of defense v. offense.

“Since a run is a run is a run, Matthews still….”

Isn’t a run saved not exactly equal to a run created? For instance, shouldn’t a HR, being equal to one run, be more valuable than a robbed HR? Reason being is that a robbed HR will always only be one run saved while a HR hit has the opportunity to be worth several runs.

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
7 years 5 months ago

But the home run robbed could easily be up to four runs saved. Bases loaded, two outs. I think pretty much any way you slice it, it’s the same.

don
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don
7 years 5 months ago

A run saved is very slightly better than a run earned. Say a team scores 700 runs and gives up 700 runs a year. They improve pitching and defense – now they score 700 and give up 600. They score 116.7% as many runs as they give up. Instead they improve hitting – they score 800 and give up 700. Now they score 114.3% as many runs as they give up. At least that’s how I understand it.. it’s a pretty small difference.

Also, saving a run means turning something that wasn’t an out into an out, and saves some wear on your pitchers.

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