The Pittsburgh Pirates have acquired utility man Mark Mathias, who, according to FanGraphs ZIPS, is coming into 2023 with some interesting projections.
The Pittsburgh Pirates recently acquired utility man Mark Mathias from the Texas Rangers. The move has been met with little attention. After all, Mathias is mostly a career minor leaguer. He is entering his age-28 campaign and has less than 150 plate appearances in the major leagues. But one of the more advanced projection systems, ZIPS, projects Mathias as a fairly interesting player.
First, let’s look at his short major league career. In just 127 plate appearances, Mathias is a .256/.306/.462 batter. He has a .331 wOBA and 114 wRC+ and has mostly provided plus offensive value through his power. Mathias whacked six home runs last year in less than 100 plate appearances (91, to be exact), leading to a .259 isolated slugging percentage. Career-wise, he has a .205 mark. Mathias also managed a 90.2 MPH exit velocity, 46.2% hard-hit rate, and 11.5% barrel rate.
Mathias spent a good portion of the 2022 season at Triple-A. In 237 plate appearances split between the Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers’ affiliates, the utility man batted .322/.422/.518 with a .413 wOBA and 149 wRC+. Mathias worked a walk in 13.1% of his plate appearances but still struck out a little more than you would like to see. His 24.1% strikeout rate wasn’t terrible, but not good either. Mathias has a 29.1% strikeout rate in the major leagues but a walk rate of just 7.1%.
ZIPS, one of the more advanced projection systems, holds Mathias in a fairly positive light. He’s projected to bat .237/.317/.399 with a .314 wOBA. On top of that, he also projects to hit 11 home runs and 16 doubles.
On paper, those numbers aren’t too impressive, but they would fall right in line with the league average in 2022. The average 2022 batter slashed .243/.312/.395 with a .310 wOBA last season. Even better is the +1.8 fWAR in just 93 games and 357 plate appearances. WAR is far from perfect, but it can give you a general idea of how good or bad a player is. +2.0 in a full season is generally considered the league average, and Mathias is projected to reach right around that number in less than 100 games.
If Mathias were to reach those projected numbers, that would make him a highly productive low-cost acquisition. A league-average batter who can play all over the infield and outfield while also racking up nearly 2.0 fWAR in less than 100 games? That would be an outstanding acquisition.
Of course, there are some major assumptions here. The first being he’d play nearly 100 games, the second being he’d make the major league roster, and the third being he’d be as good as the projections currently pin him at.
But the projections are intriguing nonetheless. That's not to say that Mathias will hit those marks, but he has performed well throughout his time at Triple-A and has also done well in the brief stints he has had in the major leagues. It will be interesting to see how he shakes up the competition for a bench spot in camp. I personally would like to see him be given a shot before Chris Owings or Drew Maggi, but I still would put Tucupita Marcano over Mathias.