May 21, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) shakes hands with catcher Evan Gattis (24) after he delivered the game winning hit against the Minnesota Twins during the tenth inning at Turner Field. The Braves defeated the Twins 5-4 in ten innings. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Braves: Three's a Crowd?

If three’s a crowd, then the Atlanta Braves have a crowd right now at the catcher position.  With Brian McCann back behind the plate on most outings, and Gerald Laird as the official/unofficial backup for Brian, the Braves have a decision to make.  What will Frank Wren and company decide to do with the white-hot Evan Gattis?  Everyone has an opinion on that of course, from Uncle John and Aunt Bertha, to pundits, reporters, so-called experts, armchair managers, die-hard fans and fair-weather fans.  From what I have heard, most are quick to say that if anyone has to go, it should definitely be Gerald Laird.

Let’s explore the subtle question within the main question first.  As far as having three catchers, is that such a bad thing under the circumstances?  Put simply, does anyone really have to go?  It’s rare to have a three catcher platoon going on any ball club, and it’s even more rare to have not just one, but three who have performed so well offensively. It’s easy to argue that you’d like to keep all three if possible, but is that possible?

As a six time All Star and five time Silver Slugger, we all know about Brian McCann’s prowess with the bat.  What you may not know is that Brian has also been in the top five in putouts every year of his career, and was number one in putouts in 2010.  I’m always surprised when Brian throws a runner out to hear some fans say something like, Wow, Brian threw that guy out!  He may not have the best arm in baseball for a catcher, but it’s not as bad as some think either.  Gerald Laird was 4th in putouts in 2009, but that is the only year being top five for him in a long, ten year career.  Because Evan Gattis is yet to be really tested as a day-in, day-out, defensive catcher, he doesn’t even factor into the defensive argument for me.  In fact, I would argue that his lack of experience behind the plate make him at best a 3rd string candidate defensively.  Offensively, there is no question in my mind that Brian McCann is the most well-rounded offensive tool the Braves have among their catching platoon.  Since Brian’s return to the Braves lineup, he has a BA/OBP/SLG line of .282/.383/.590, with an OPS of  .973!  That’s pretty good for just a short while back in the regular lineup, and not always catching every single game.

I understand the excitement surrounding Gattis right now.  After all, his story is the stuff TV movies are made of, and his recent clutch homers and 1st career Grand Slam are the kinds of offensive moments that make fans insist that Gattis never be out of the lineup, even if that means playing him in left field.  Evan Gattis is a decent outfielder, and he has a good amount of minor league experience with that, but he also needs a lot of work to become a good outfielder.  That’s not really a question anyway, with the trio of Up, Up, and a Hey doing the current work.  Gattis is a big guy, and where he will excel if given the chance, at least long term, is behind the plate.  Offensively, Gattis’ performance of late is certainly memorable, but while he is hitting on a BA/OBP/SLG line of .256/.308/.587, with an OPS of .895, Gerald Laird, for all the hard knocks he gets from fans, has actually performed decently as well with a line of .262/.340/.310 with an OPS of .650.  Gattis has better numbers offensively, but Laird has brought a wealth of experience and wisdom behind the plate handling pitchers, especially the young Julio Teheran.

If you weigh all those pros and cons, you may assume that the Braves would decide at some point to try and replace Laird, perhaps with some badly needed experience in pitching relief.  They may, but the other side of that coin is the fact that Brian McCann will be a free agent in 2014, and his high price tag may see him in some other uniform in 2014.  That said, is it possible the Braves try and hang on to all three catchers, platooning as needed, in an effort to try and have a Gattis/Laird duo next year?  Don’t rule that out!  I don’t personally wish to see that happen.  I would love to see a McCann/Gattis platoon if anything, but I know the business of baseball, and money issues tend to rule out any other considerations.

I think the high priority for the Braves right now is trying to get a handle on the relief pitching situation after the season long loss now of both Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty.  I think the catcher trio problem will work itself out between this year and next, but we won’t likely see any move before that.  Some argue that Laird might be gone before next year considering the deep need for experienced relief, but I don’t think the Braves will make such a move with the other looming questions already mentioned.  I think also that if 25 man roster questions come into play, you will never see Gattis go down to Triple A.  He’s just too valuable a weapon for that.  Time will tell, but there are certainly some tough decisions the Braves are going to have to make, sooner or later.  It’s a tough decision, but a good problem to have at the moment.


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  • Lee Trocinski

    First, don’t ever use putouts as defensive analysis, especially for catchers. Over 95% of catcher’s putouts are strikeouts, so it has nothing to do with their own talent. Second, Laird has only had two seasons catching close to 1000 innings, so he won’t ever accumulate such stats.

    If the Braves feel the need to get another reliever, I think they should trade Laird or Reed Johnson, with Gattis replacing the departed player’s role. If they think they can keep six relievers the rest of the season, they could just trade a minor leaguer for a reliever. Personally, I’d trade Reed, as his .412 BABIP won’t be sustained, and his inability to play a decent CF makes him a superfluous piece.

  • fireboss

    I agree with Lee that put outs aren’t a good guide. Laird brings a lot to the position for those who know more than that he’s not as ripped as a 26 year old. He handles Teheran particularly well and he calls a better game than Gattis, Game calling is learned by doing .And Gattis just hasn’t done it long enough to be great at it yet. Watching his early games behind the plate I had the feeling the pitchers were struggling for a link with him. Interviews implied as much with quote like “I’d never have thought of throwing that pitch ..” and others similar to that. You can’t come out and say anything bad about the guy when he’s heroing all the time and a great guy too. So diplomacy takes over. I n spite of everyone pleading for a miracle (Mac signing for chump change) I think they want to keep Laird for those reasons as well as the likelihood that BMac is a Yankee (Dodger, Red Sox) next year.

    The 6 man bullpen dance will end the first week in June when Reed or Laird or even Schafer is traded. Johnson has the great PH record and Wren “always wanted him” but again I agree he’s the logical choice to go. Schafer is cheaper and a better defender. But, who that has anyone we might want, wants him? A likely scenario is a trade of Reed for minor league optionable talent and the signing of a DFA’d reliever. They would love for Beimel to return to his best and fill that slot and he might.

    On Gattis being the hero over and over again, does he remind anyone else of a former infielder who did that a few years ago?

  • cheadrick

    Yes I’m aware putouts are not very reliable for measuring a catchers defensive ability. I suppose I react a touch negatively to all the talk suggesting Bmac sucks defensively, and putouts does suggest at least a small percentage of defensive ability. rsB (debatably the best) and RPP are good for catchers, but not everyone can digest such formulas, so I don’t throw them around. Admittedly, Brian’s strength is not his defense, but I think he’s better than either Gattis or Laird.

    I agree with you Fred that Laird is better than given credit, and I don’t think he will be on the block for a reliever, and I agree with Lee that Reed is the best candidate.

  • fireboss

    The best evaluation of a catcher’s skill is the eye. There are no defensive metrics that work well to be trusted BMac isn’t gold glove but he’s not bad. His game calling is right up there and before his injury in 11 he’d been better against runners. he has a holes when moving to his right behind the plate but that’s not out of the ordinary. He’s probably in the top 3 or 4 in the NL.

  • cheadrick

    Lee, what’s your thoughts on rsB and RPP for evaluating a catcher’s defensive performance? I’ve read the Sabermetric Bible, and read about those stats in other places, but curious your take on them.

    • Lee Trocinski

      They’re at least as flawed as UZR and DRS for other positions, but they are better than nothing. Fred is right about your eyes being the best judgement for C (and 1B for that matter.) I feel like the run values attached to framing pitches (not included in FG WAR) are too high, but I have no basis for that. There is some year-to-year correlation found with these stats, so it’s likely they have some use.