Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Braves’ Evan Gattis, an underrated defensive catcher.

Braves’ Evan Gattis, a defensive liability?  Let’s look at the facts…

Wait? I'm a what? Not so fast, take a look at my catching stats!

Wait? I’m a what? Not so fast, take a look at my catching stats!

In Spring Training of 2013, when “El Oso Blanco” took the eyes of everyone with his Paul Bunyan-esque approach to the game of baseball, as he sent ball after ball into orbit, there was no doubt to all watching that his bat could play in the Majors.  There has ever only been one question concerning Gattis: defense.

The Braves organization is somewhat at fault for the questions around Gattis’ catching defense.  There are little available advanced metrics for Minor League defense, and even less for Minor League catchers.  I’m just guessing here, but I think Gattis’ size and lack of professional baseball experience were (and still are) the main reasons why he got the dreaded “poor defensive catcher” label by the Braves’ scouts.  John Sickels, Minor League Prospect guru, had this to say in February of 2013:

His glove isn’t as bad as you might think given his size (6-4, 230) and lack of experience, and he did throw out 39% of runners last year, but his receiving otherwise leaves much to be desired and nobody is going to let him catch regularly. With the right team, he could play some games in the outfield and DH, do some emergency catching occasionally, and rack up 300 at-bats while producing solid power numbers.

Often times, this is about all it takes for a player to be deemed good, bad, ugly; a simple statement by a Minor League guru.

Using several advanced metrics and some not so advanced, I am going to debunk the theory that Evan Gattis is a poor defensive catcher and prove, once and for all, that Evan Gattis, “El Oso Blanco”, has the chops to stick at catcher.

Framing pitches

There’s no doubt that when it comes to framing pitches, the Braves lost one of the best in Brian McCann.  According to Baseball Prospectus, McCann was the best in the league in 2008, 2009, finished 2nd in 2011, then back on top in 2012. In 2013, Evan was no slouch either as he framed 36 extra strikes for his team, which equated to 3.9 framing runs.  For as little as Evan was behind the plate, that was well-above average.  Thus far, Evan has not fared as well as last year, merely breaking even in pitches framed for strikes.  Interestingly enough, this is the one stat of which scouts (exception being Sickels) thought Evan would be slightly above average in, not below.  There’s still plenty left in this season, and I expect Gattis to be slightly above-average in this category as he grows more accustomed to all the new pitchers on the staff, especially since McCann (who was known to also study the up and coming Minor League pitchers repertoire) is no longer there for brain-picking.

Catcher’s Earned Run Average

While I don’t put much stock into this number, Evan’s career CERA is 2.99.  Over that same amount of time, the ERA for Braves pitchers has been 3.12.

Arm and footwork

Being a large framed individual, Evan’s naysayers talked about his slow footwork behind the plate.

I'm gonna throw you out, sucka! Well...33% of the time.

I’m gonna throw you out, sucka! Well…33% of the time.

While Evan’s footwork is slower than the average Major League catcher, he’s no Ryan Doumit.  However, Evan more than makes up for his  less than stellar footwork with an above average arm that is spot-on accurate.  If you follow this link , it lists the active leaders  “caught-stealing percentage”, minimum 200 stolen base attempts.  In his last 2 years in the Minors,  Gattis threw out 39% of would base-stealers.  Thus far, he’s thrown out 33% in the Majors.  The reason I mention the Minors is that to show that this small-sample isn’t fluky, but an actual representation of what to expect in the future.  If placed in that group, Evan would be in the top 1/3 in the Majors.

Passed Balls/Wild Pitches

Evan’s biggest weakness is not as big as one would think.  Again, according to Baseball Prospectus, Evan is on the books for 10 passed balls/wild pitches which is tied for 5th worse in the Majors with 4 other catchers. This is a catching stat that I’d be willing to bet Evan stays in the bottom 1/3, I mean, for the love of all things sacred, his nickname is The White Bear.  Would anyone think a person with that nickname would excel at blocking wild pitches?  I think not.

Conclusion

Four catching elements analyzed, first of which Evan was about league average, the 2nd he was slightly better than his teammates, the 3rd he was in the top-tier, and the 4th he was in the bottom tier.  Simple math computes to Evan being…

An AVERAGE MAJOR LEAGUE DEFENSIVE CATCHER!

Told you guys!

And it looks like Fangraphs overall defensive numbers agree as Evan has neither cost his team a run behind the plate, nor has he earned any.  For a man that will be a top-tier offensive catcher, I’ll take average.

Tags: Atlanta Braves Evan Gattis Featured Popular

  • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

    Something’s clearly working: all of these catchers have the pitching staff comfortable. I was actually worried a bit earlier in the year as Gattis’ offense wasn’t keeping up with his _defense_. But it seems a swing change fixed that part.

    I was expecting a lot of discussion from play-by-play guys about Evan and defense, but he’s really making that a non-issue.

    • Ryan Cothran

      I like the word “non-issue” to describe Evan’s catching ability. He’ll probably never be above-average behind the plate but he has the ability to make it a non-issue.

  • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

    Issues are in the eye of the beholder, but while I agree, sort of, now that Gattis’ defense is more non-issue than issue, this wasn’t always true. He’s getting better with every game and daily playing time, but he did have issues that no defensive metric (as you say there aren’t good ones for catchers) could show. I saw them with the good ole fashioned eye test, the ones scouts often use. Those issues are less of a concern now, but they were real. Thank God Evan is making a believer of all of us now, defensively at least.

    • Sealift67

      Have to be pleased with the grit and intelligence of this late bloomer.
      In the military he is the type of guy you want next to you.

  • fireboss

    Evan not only had his knee fixed but I suspect after watching him this year compared to last he’s watched a lot of film and talked to some of the catching corps (Perez, Laird et al) because the way he moves is different. It has cost hi s a little catch and throw speed (by eye) but he’s better in the dirt than he was last year. He’s also sequencing pitched better than I expected. This was the area that worried me but watching him so far he’s been better than Laird and of course Doumit. The catching metrics are a farce in general. The best way to tell whether a catcher is doing his job is to watch how the pitchers work to him. The pitchers are clearly enjoying working to Gattis.