When I was perusing Google Trends for article topics in January 2018, I noticed a couple of names among trending baseball players that surprised me. These names were Rich Hill and Matt Diaz. I quickly realized that the trend for Rich Hill had to do with the documentary film that shares his name. However, former ballplayer Matt Diaz was coming up for something else, the Diaz Family Foundation. It was started by Matt and his family. The Foundation once assisted orphans and disadvantaged youth in Polk County, Georgia, although I’m not sure if it’s any longer in operation.
That being said, I’d like to say something about Matt Diaz as a ballplayer, who also happens to be a great guy. I watched tons of Atlanta Braves baseball when I was younger. Many of their games were broadcast on TBS, so it was something that was often on when I was flipping through cable stations. I loved watching future Hall of Famers such as Chipper Jones, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and the many underrated players that suited up for the Braves year after year.
Matt Diaz was one of these particularly underrated players. He played for the Braves from 2006 to 2012, with a brief intermission in Pittsburgh for the better part of 2011. His best years were 2006, 2007, and 2009. In those seasons, he posted OPS (on base plus slugging) numbers of .839, .865, and .878 respectively. If he was such a slugger, as those numbers would suggest, then why did he never get an All-Star nod?
Diaz was the kind of player that manager Bobby Cox and general manager John Schuerholtz valued greatly. He did one thing exceptionally well: destroying left-handed pitching. There were many left-handed pitchers whom the Braves faced on a regular basis. So, even being part of the “weak” side of a corner outfield platoon, Diaz saw a lot of plate appearances. He made the most of them.
For his career, Diaz hit .322/.363/.495 (.858 OPS) versus left-handed pitching in roughly 1000 plate appearances. That’s compared to .258/.313/.360 (.673 OPS) versus right-handed pitching. Also, Diaz was no Gold Glove outfielder, but in left field, he actually was perfectly average defensively (career 1 Defensive Runs Saved). It was in right field that he had trouble (-10 DRS for his career in RF). Considering he saw almost three times as much play in left as in right, there is a lot of noise in that small sample size in right field. So, we can overall assume that Diaz was a perfectly average and useful fielder on the outfield grass.
All in all, when Diaz played left field against southpaw starters, he was an above-average player. The rest of the time, he was flawed. A former 17th round pick by the Tampa Bay Rays (then known as the Devil Rays), Diaz had a couple cups of coffee before being selected off waivers by the Baltimore Orioles. He was later released by the Orioles, signed with the Royals, then was traded to the Braves in December 2005 for a pitcher named Ricardo Rodriguez. That pitcher was out of organized baseball after the 2006 season. It’s safe to say that the Braves won that trade.
Even after letting Diaz go to the Pirates after a subpar 2010 season, the Braves would reacquire him for the 2011 stretch run for another minor league ballplayer who never amounted to anything. Unfortunately, that was the end of Diaz. He had a lousy 2012 season, and couldn’t stick with the Yankees in 2013. He did manage to get into a few games with the Miami Marlins in 2013. In 2014, he officially retired in 2014 to spend more time with his family and devote more time to his charitable religious organization.
It was a good experience to rekindle old memories of a very useful ballplayer for a baseball powerhouse like the Braves. Indeed, soon after my initial research for this piece, the Atlanta Braves would return to their old value-hunting ways, exiting a massive rebuilding project thanks to All-Star additions Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna, Jr. Who knows if in their future playoff runs, they’ll find another Matt Diaz off the scrap heap?