Texas Rangers

Mathis ranks among worst hitters historically. Rangers say this is how he can improve

Jeff Mathis was not offered a two-year contract by the Texas Rangers to hit home runs, but rather to help pitchers prevent them.

He wasn’t signed to bat .300, but to help keep opposing teams well below that mark.

Mathis is a defense-minded catcher first, and probably second and third.

His career numbers at the plate bear that out, and he knows what those numbers say.

“Obviously, I want to do more,” Mathis said.

The good news is the Rangers believe they have some insight that could help the 15-year veteran perform better than his .198 career batting average and .564 on-base plus slugging percentage.

Manager Chris Woodward said that data can tell Mathis which pitches and locations to avoid while telling him the ones he can’t miss. He isn’t going to compete for a batting title, but he’s going to be better if he can apply the fresh data.

“You look at his numbers, he has been pretty average offensively,” Woodward said. “It has probably been his weakest point, but he is a tremendous worker. I am intrigued what our hitting coaches and what our game planning guys can do to help him understand how to be more successful.

“We’ll see how he adapts to that, takes it on and embraces that but from a mechanical standpoint, there is room for improvement, which he is excited about to dig into and see if he can elevate.”

Mathis is coming off a season in which he batted .200 with a .272 on-base percentage and .272 slugging percentage. His career OPS of .564 is the worst among active players with at least 2,500 plate appearances and seventh-lowest all-time among catchers with 2,500 plate appearances.

His career OPS of 52 rates 2,173rd all-time among the 2,178 hitters who have at least 2,600 plate appearances.

He has 48 career homers in 2,419 at-bats, or 34 homers fewer than Joey Gallo has hit in his past 949 at-bats.

Soon to be 36, Mathis said that he prioritizes defense but doesn’t ignore his hitting.

“I think for me, catching is No. 1, but offense is also very important to me and something I take a lot of pride in,” he said. “I’m hoping I contribute more than I have in the past.”

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After 11 seasons covering the Rangers for the Star-Telegram, Jeff Wilson knows that baseball is a 24/7/365 business and there is far more to baseball than just the 162 games each season. There’s also more to Jeff -- like a family and impressive arsenals of Titleist hats and adidas shoes -- but sometimes it’s hard to tell.
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