Waive A.J. buh-bye!
The Matheny has hit the fan: all the Giants blogs are all agog over the Matheny signing and not in a good way. Most of them blast the Giants because Matheny, in their opinion is no better than Torrealba and Yorvit would only cost them $1M in 2005. I don't really know defense or how to calibrate how much that is worth, and frankly we are probably in the late 1800's in terms of understanding defense relative to offensive measures.
But I'll give it a shot. Using Baseball Prospectus' stats, Matheny was 13 runs better per 100 games than the average player, adjusted for league difficulty and normalization, last year. His average for his career is 7 runs and his average over: last 3 years, 9 runs better; 5 years, 11 runs better. Torrealba was 10 runs better last year, 17 runs career and 3 years. Yorvit had a blip in 2003, very high, removing that puts him at basically 8 runs career and 3 years. So they are very similar. Is that worth an extra $2.5M per year, especially considering Yorvit mashes LHP and Matheny hits poorly against both? No.
Viewed another way, The Hardball Times publishes Win Share stats, and A.J. and Matheny are ranked right next to each other, A.J. has 13 win shares, Matheny is next with 10 win shares. At only 30% more production, A.J. is not worth $5M per year if Matheny is getting $3.5M, more like $4.5M. By this measure, Matheny is a slight bargain, however, A.J. expects to get better over the next 3-4 seasons while Matheny is expected to hit the speed bump that happen, with him being in his late 30's and a full-time catcher.
Also, Torrealba had 4 win shares, so on a per game basis, he seems to be a better deal than Matheny in terms of that, especially at only $1M or less. Matheny had 1.7 WS for batting, 8.1 WS for fielding. Torrealba had 2.0 and 2.3, respectively, for 4 WS total. So in much fewer AB and his worse offensive production of his career, Torrealba had more hitting win shares than Matheny who started a whole season. Yorvit played about 40% of the games that Matheny did, according to Baseball Prospectus calculations of 9 inning games, so Torrealba's defense would have translated to 5.75 WS total vs. 8.1 WS for Matheny, 10.75 WS total vs. 9.8 WS for Matheny, Yorvit beating out Matheny based on WS because of his offensive oomph.
Apparently Sabean is paying through the nose for the leadership and handling of the pitching staff that Matheny possesses. But based on the various statistical measurements available today, it appears that Yorvit could have delivered approximately the same contribution offensively and defensively that Matheny could have.
One factor, however, which I don't have my hands on right now, is that Yorvit's numbers have been inflated by getting an overbalance of batting vs. LHP in part time basis - which he mashes - and if his rates were applied to the balance of PA that Pierzynski had, his offensive stats would not be as impressive. So just blindly extropolating his offensive stats would overemphasize his offensive contributions on a daily basis.
Taking all of these stats and opinions together, I think that this gives us the best of two worlds. As much as fans think Yorvit could be a starting catcher, his offensive stats are not that good when re-balanced for majority RHP AB. He can be the designated LHP catcher since Matheny is equally horrible - for the most part - and put up impressive stats that way, plus defensively there is no drop off between the two players. Yorvit will get more AB in future years as Matheny's skills erode, but Matheny's salary won't hurt future budgets much, its only about $3M per year except for the option year which obviously probably won't be exercised at $4M when he's 38-39 years old. And with minimized ABs, Yorvit's salary won't climb sky high either.
I still would have preferred keeping A.J. because of his batting. I think his defense was better in the AL because he had less to think about, changing leagues and pitching staff he probably was a bit overwhelmed at first, as evidenced by his poor hitting in April. But what's done is done, I don't think Matheny is a horrible signing, at least at the level everyone is making it out to be, but I still think the Giants could have spent their money better, though maybe they will surprise us with their OF acquisition. However, I fear that it will be like last year when the Pierzynski deal was the only interesting deal, setting us up for disappointment.