Aug 6, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Atlanta Braves outfielder Evan Gattis (24) looks on prior to the game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Debate: Atlanta’s Future Catcher? (Part 2 of 2)


In this, the 2nd and final part of the 2-part debate between Chris Headrick and myself, I will discuss the course of action that I think is best for the Braves to take, regarding our catching situation in 2014. If you missed Chris’ post, you can read it here.

However, before I dig in to the main part of my post, let me address the editorial note from Chris’ post, reproduced below:

[Editorial Note:  I cannot speak for Julien, but I should say that while I don't believe we'll see McCann back with the Braves next year, I DO hope we will.  Who in their right mind would want to lose a catcher who's not only been an offensive juggernaut, but has been part of the heart and soul of this team for years?]

I definitely agree that it would be great to have McCann back for next season, his offense is pretty special. And yes, it is unlikely that he will be back, but in some ways, I think that it may be best for us that he likely won’t be back. I won’t get into that here (I do have plans to write a post on why we shouldn’t sign McCann to a longterm deal), but suffice it to say that at his age/innings total, the position he plays, and the evidence we have noting the decline of power hitters once they pass age 30, signing McCann to a deal longer than 3 years would be a mistake in my opinion.

Now, let’s imagine that it is December 14, 2013. Brian McCann has just signed a deal with the Texas Rangers, meaning that the Atlanta Braves need to find a new catcher for the 2014 season. Who should we use? Are there any free agents available that are worth going after? No, not really. Take a look at the list of impending 2014 Free Agent catchers.

 

List taken from mlbtraderumors.com

 

Outside of McCann, there is not really 1 person on this list worth going after with our FA dollars… especially considering that we may be eating money if we trade Uggla, and also may need to add a pitcher this winter if Beachy isn’t right. Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t any good catchers on this list. Saltalamacchia is a good catcher. So is Buck. But neither are any better than Evan Gattis.

Yes, you heard right, Evan Gattis. He of the early season hot streak, and now the mid-season slump. Many use his struggles lately as a reason to discount his early season performance as a “flash in the pan”, ala Jeff Francoeur. And while I agree with those that say this in that Gattis is not a particularly good hitter (his plate discipline is pretty bad), I can’t forget that he still did put together those 2 months where he was on fire.

When I see Gattis and his stats, I see a guy that did well when healthy and was starting every day.  Then, after getting hurt (oblique) and not having the ability to start everyday once McCann, and then Jason, came back from injury, his stats started to plummet. I’m trying to think of another person that we know that had an oblique injury, and had his stats suffer greatly as a result…. oh wait, that’s Brian McCann! Remember 2011?

Before injury, McCann was OPS’ing .889, with a .323 babip. Post injury, .638, .189 babip. Gattis has OPSd .535 (.257 babip), after OPSing .894 prior to his DL stint. Both fell off  significantly, and while McCann’s numbers were better, we have to consider the fact that 1, Evan doesn’t have the MLB experience that McCann did, and also, he’s dealing with the normal struggles that a rookie would experience in addition to his injury. I’m not saying that Evan Gattis is as good as McCann, but to say that he’s bad now because of his recent slump is misguided in my opinion.

In addition, it’s not like Gattis is entirely like Francouer. Let’s compare their respective stats over their first 45-50 games (185 PAs) in the MLB.

Francouer: .343/.380/.651/1.032 (.376 babip) (2.2% uBB, 19.6%K)

Gattis: .252/.317/.577/.894 (.243 babip) (6.6% uBB,  22.4% K)

One of the most commonly spread “disses’ on Gattis is that he is Francoeur all over again; a poor disciplined hitter, that looks great for the first few months, then collapses. However, based on the above stats, Gattis, at least to me, appears to be an better hitter. His unintentional walk rate was over 4 points higher than Francouer’s, and while his K% is higher, it is roughly league avg. for today’s NL, much like Francouer’s was when he played.

In 2005, the avg. BB% was 8.5, K% was 17.0. Now in 2013, the avg’s are 7.7% BB, and 19.9% K. So, based on this, Gattis walks 1.1% less than the avg. NL hitter, and Ks 2.5% more. Francouer walked 6.3% less, and Kd 2.6% more. So basically, compared to their respective league averages, Gattis walks 4.4% more than Frenchy did, while K’ing in 0.1% fewer ABs. While it is true that both share similar batted ball rates (high fly ball and ground ball rates, along with IFFB% for both), and an inflated HR/FB, Gattis did his with a lower than “normal” babip. His is now at .257, while Francoeur finished 2005 with .337. That’s quite a difference.

Now, I’m not saying that Gattis is going to be a savior… I don’t believe that. But, like Francoeur in first few season, he can at least be worth near normal value on offense. Just good enough to not be a black hole, while we await Bethancourt. The 1 difference between Gattis and Francoeur in my opinion, is that Gattis has much more true power… His problem is consistent contact. But he has the raw strength to tomahawk any pitch out of the park. Get him starting everyday, and I think that his power will be enough to keep his offensive value near, or above normal. He will at least be more valuable than Bethancourt, in my opinion, who didn’t take too kindly to his last rushed call-up (when he was sent to AA to begin the 2012 season and proceeded to hit .243/.275/.291/.566).

While it is possible that Bethancourt  could be better than Gattis or Laird next year, I don’t want to take the risk of rushing his bat. He’s got such a high ceiling, so when he is called up, we need to make sure that he is truly ready. If we rush him, we may see him struggle like Simmons has for much of this season, and that would not be a good thing for such a young hitter, especially one that has struggled mightily before. He’s “only” hit for half a season right now at AA, we should want to see him do it at AAA as well.

Average OPS for C’s in the NL is .250/.313/.388/.702 , and for 8 hitters, it is .240/.307/.350/.657. With our offensive firepower in other parts of the lineup, we should be able to handle Gattis/Laird at the bottom of the order… they at least should be able to come near these norms. And yes, while Bethancourt could do so as well, I have less confidence in him being able to do this at the MLB level than I do in Gattis/Laird. They at least have done it before. While it will be a dropoff from McCann, possibly performing really poorly at times, I believe that this is a better option than rushing Bethancourt for the 2014 season.

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  • Joseph Fain

    The big flaw that I see in this analysis is that there is absolutely no mention of defense. Catcher is the most important defensive position in my mind due to the responsibilities for calling games / managing the pitching staff. When you look at the total offensive / defensive equation for Gattis, the league average offense you mention is simply not enough to make up for his sub par defense behind the dish. As I said the other day, I would go with Laird / Bethancourt and let Gattis go to AAA to work on his defense to come back as the backup in 2015. Bethancourt could learn to manage the staff from Laird who seems to have done a good job with Teheran.

    • fireboss

      I actually agree with the Bethancourt Laird tandem but catcher defensive metrics are at best problematic. For example Gattis has a much better catcher ERA -CERA- that Laird, something that surprised me as I feel his pitch sequencing and framing are not yet major league ready. His arm however is as strong as Bethancourt’s though his release isn’t as quick and his anticipation of the need to block balls in the dirt isn’t there yet. A season in the winter ball as a catcher could well improve both of those as could tutoring from Laird and Eddie Perez.
      Unless Bethancourt rips up spring training I expect a Gattis Laird start to the season with Bethancourt up midyear is he hits at AAA. But it’s just September, who knows really?

    • cheadrick

      I agree with Fred that a catcher’s defensive metrics are hard to find good data on. A lot of that is mostly eye. That’s primarily why in my own debate piece on Bethancourt, I simply mentioned that he has received multiple defensive awards. That comes from many eyes watching, and many realizing he has a great arm. I do not agree with Fred that Gattis’ arm is as strong as Bethancourt’s in this sense only – strong, but not as accurate. Finally, I think you are all correct, that what we shall see is probably going to be a Laird/Gattis tandem. I simply feel that is the wrong move to make. Bethancourt is already tearing it up, and doing what Scouts have hoped all along he would do, and he’s been doing that awhile now. His .277 BA with 12 homers and 45 RBIs is a marked improvement since coming to AA, showing the power scouts have wanted to see. I suspect the Braves will need to see a super-human effort in Spring to make him part of a Braves’ tandem out of the gate, but that’s a bit unwise unrealistic IMO. I am under no illusion about the kinds of moves the Braves typically make – and that’s why I do believe 2014 will start with Gattis doing some catching. I just think it’s the wrong move.