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The Fall of Gary Matthews, Jr.

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Will the real Gary Matthews, Jr. please stand up?

From 2003-2007, Gary Matthews, Jr. was an above-average outfielder, patrolling centerfield and providing a significant amount of pop in the first-half of the batting order for the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

In 2008, Matthews’ production dropped off and he clubbed just eight homeruns with 46 RBI while batting significantly lower than his career average of .258.

What happened to Gary Matthews, Jr.This year, Gary Matthews, Jr. disappeared.

In parts of 103 games, he hit just four homers and scored just 44 runs. The speed that once made him a top of the order asset and outfield whiz vanished. His Wins Above Replacement (WAR) dwindled for the second consecutive year and his Ultimate Zone Rating, an indicator of fielding prowess, dropped to -17.6, nearly twice what it was in 2008.

Gary Matthews, Jr. is approaching liability status. His contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is valued at nearly $10 million a year, making him one of the highest paid fifth outfielders ever. The 5-year, $50 million contract he signed with the Angels in 2007 has rendered him non-tradable.

Prior to the 2009 season, the Angels looked to deal Matthews. One suitor was the Cincinnati Reds, but they balked at the idea of giving up an arm for a league average bat with dwindling speed and glove skills.

It’s hard to imagine how much the 2009 campaign hurt Matthews, Jr.’s trade value.

Matthews, Jr.’s struggles coincides with three events: the move from hitter friendly Ranger’s Ballpark in Arlington to the dimensions of Anaheim in 2007, his implication in the purchase of Human Growth Hormone and steroids the same year, and left knee surgery prior to the 2009 season.

Matthews, Jr.’s lack of power can also be linked to all three sources.

Ranger’s Ballpark is the seventh most friendly hitter’s park. Angel Stadium is ranked 15th, putting it right in the middle of the pack. The dimensions of the two parks are almost the same, but the air is incredibly different and that’s one thing Matthews benefitted from. Of the four homeruns Matthews hit this season, one was in Arlington on September 20.

An indication that his knee is still bothering him is his stolen bases. In 2006 and 2007, he stole a combined 28 bases. In 2008 and 2009, he stole a total of 12. At the same time, his slugging percentage has gone from a pretty good .457 average in 2006/2007 to a poor .359 in 2008/2009.

According to Matthews’ FanGraphs profile, there is no indication that pitchers are pitching him any different. He’s seeing the same stuff and handling that stuff in the same way (groundballs, flyballs, line drives), but isn’t driving anything out park.

One writer pegs Matthews, Jr. as a player who may never bounce back.

With another season’s rest, Matthews will look to improve upon his 2009 season. If the Angels have it their way, it won’t be in a Halo uniform.

Gary Matthews, Jr. is yet to get a hit this postseason.