Sep 3, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves left fielder Evan Gattis (24) hits a home run against the New York Mets during the seventh inning at Turner Field. The Braves defeated the Mets 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Braves' Evan Gattis: Difference Maker?

I’m actually on vacation this week, but even that won’t stop me from watching baseball, thinking about baseball, and yes – writing about it.  I’m hooked up to mobile wifi, laptop firmly ensconced in my – uh hum, lap, and thinking about the one player who might make the most difference for the Braves heading into the playoffs.  Hopefully a number of Braves will contribute, and a number of them will have to when facing teams like the Dodgers.  That said, there is one player that my gut alone tells me will step it up big time if given the opportunity – Evan Gattis.

If you’ve read how skeptical I’ve been of Evan Gattis, then you might be surprised to see me write that he’s the very player I think could have the most offensive impact, not only in September but down the stretch into October.  I’ll get to my reasons for that in a second, but first let me revisit the skepticism I’ve had about Gattis so far, and in some ways still do.

I’ve been skeptical of Gattis’ abilities at a catcher, and an outfielder.  He has not performed in either of those positions admirably.  While I believe with a year or two of day-in-day out duties at either position, he could turn out to be quite the reliable defender, he’s not at this point in his career.  As a catcher he has a strong arm, and is probably even more accurate than Brian McCann.  Still, he doesn’t always manage pitchers well, makes mistakes with base runners, and doesn’t always block errant pitches like he should.

I’ve argued in other posts that I don’t feel Gattis should be our every day catcher next year, and while he may well be, I’ll stick to my guns with my opinion that would be a mistake.  Even if he has a McCann like bat or better, his defensive deficits stand in the way of that.  This is not an argument for him being day-to-day next year as a catcher.  It’s simply my gut telling me it would be a mistake not to have his bat in the lineup as often as possible going toward the playoffs.

Offensively, Evan Gattis started out the year on fire.  He was given many opportunities to play early in the season in Brian McCann’s absence, and made the most of it.  A close look at the table below shows Evan’s numbers, and while he has had some legitimate slumps (for which Fredi Gonzalez rightfully benched him), you’ll notice that Gattis has typically performed quite well offensively when playing as regularly as possible.

Split GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
April/March 20 84 76 9 19 6 0 6 16 6 19 .250 .310 .566 .875
May 16 69 63 13 20 5 0 6 16 3 17 .317 .362 .683 1.045
June 7 30 24 2 2 0 0 2 5 5 5 .083 .233 .333 .567
July 14 58 57 7 15 1 0 1 6 1 12 .263 .276 .333 .609
August 8 41 36 2 5 2 0 0 4 4 6 .139 .244 .194 .438
Sept/Oct 2 7 7 1 4 1 0 1 1 0 2 .571 .571 1.143 1.714
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/5/2013.

The simple fact is that Evan has not always had the luxury of being able to play game-in and game-out.  With Justin Upton in left, and catcher platoon duty falling mostly to the McCann/Laird duo, Gattis has been relegated mostly to the bench.  With Jason Heyward likely not back, and Jordan Schafer now dinged up a bit, Gattis should be given plenty of chances to prove what the numbers above show – that Gattis can provide lots of pop when called upon to do so, at least when playing regularly.

The only issue I see with playing Gattis regularly is the Braves’ need for a good leadoff hitter.  With Jason Heyward now out, Jordan Schafer had really stepped it up in his absence at leadoff.  If Schafer is healthy, his presence in that spot is a real need for the Braves.  That also means that Jordan is going to be playing in the outfield.  To do that – you have to either sit Gattis, B.J. Upton, or Justin Upton.  The math is really quite simple.  B.J. Upton has begun to come around with the bat lately, Justin Upton is always a long-ball threat, and that leaves Fredi Gonzalez with little opportunity to play Gattis unless the rookie platoons some at catcher or outfield.

I will make the argument that despite B.J. Upton’s upswing in offense lately, I believe that Gattis’ bat is much more of a threat, and much more reliable than that of B.J. Upton.  If I were making the call, we would see Justin Upton in right field, Jordan Schafer in center (if he’s healthy), and Evan Gattis in left.  Yes, Gattis’ defense in left leaves a little to be desired, but he can play it well enough, and his bat I think would be invaluable if able to play every day.

Fredi Gonzalez has been sitting Evan Gattis quite a bit while he was slumping in June and August, but then you know that Evan was recently sent down to AAA Gwinnett to get a few more at-bats, to better prepare him for September and the coming playoffs.  In Triple A, Gattis clearly showed that his bat was lively enough, and since coming back to Atlanta, Gattis has been on fire.  Granted, it’s a small sample size since his return, but the sample we do have is impressive enough that I’d love to see him play more often than B.J. going down the stretch.

Of course it remains to be seen what will happen with Evan Gattis in September, and into the playoffs  - whether Fredi Gonzalez willl play him as regularly as I think he should, or if he does, whether or not Evan will continue to perform like he has since coming back from Gwinnett.  When you consider that in September alone, so far, Evan has gotten 4 hits on 7 at-bats, with a double, a homer, and is batting .571, then it might be a huge mistake if Gattis isn’t given every opportunity to stoke the fire.  What’s your take on how much Gattis should play as the Braves’ season winds down? Should B.J. Upton get the lion’s share of the playtime?  Love to hear your comments.

Tags: Atlanta Braves FanSided

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