For those of you in the extensive Atlanta Braves fanbase across the country who were dreading the sight of seeing Evan Gattis playing left field again (assuming he wasn't traded), we (because I'm including myself in this group) got some good news today, and it came from Fredi Gonzalez of all people.
As he was speaking with CBS Sports yesterday, Fredi Gonzalez stated that as of the time he was speaking, he was going to play Gattis as the starting Catcher, and utilize Christian Bethancourt as the backup. From the article:
Gattis could also play in the outfield with youngster Christian Bethancourt serving as the backstop, but that isn't Gonzalez's preferred route at this time. So Bethancourt will be the backup.
"With Christian it's just an opportunity," said Gonzalez. "There is no reason for him to go back to Triple-A. I think as we stand right now, and I say that literally, 2:30 Pacific time on Tuesday, Gattis is going to be the guy behind the plate, which is fine.
This is positive news for a number of reasons, most notably these two: On-The-Field Value, and Trade Value.
Anybody who's watched at least 2 Braves games can tell that Evan Gattis isn't exactly a good defensive catcher. The Braves led the National League in Wild Pitches last season with 75, and they led all of baseball in Passed Balls + Wild Pitches with 93. Of course, you can't put Wild Pitches and Passed Balls all on the catcher since it takes 2 to tango in that particular instance, but Gattis can take his fair share of the blame here.
Measuring a catcher's defensive value with statistics has always been a bit of a rough task, especially since catcher falls into one of those positions UZR and DRS don't exactly tell you the entire story. So instead, thanks to Fangraphs, we've got 2 stats that we can focus on for now: rSB (stolen base runs saved) and RPP (Passed Pitch Runs). According to Fangraphs, a number of 5 and up would rank as "excellent," a number of -5 and below would rank as "awful," and 0 would be average. So, what did Gattis' rSB and RPP look like for the past 2 seasons? Well, in 2013, Gattis had an rSB of 1 and an RPP of -0.9. In 2014, those numbers took a dip, as his rSB dropped to -2, and his RPP took a dive down to -4.6. It's concerning, but if you were paying attention to the Passed Balls + Wild Pitches number I cited in the previous paragraph, then it shouldn't be a surprise and it actually makes sense.
As concerning as those numbers are, I'd rather take Gattis' defensive production (or lack thereof) behind the plate over whatever he could contribute in the outfield. Why? Because unlike at the catcher position, UZR and DRS do tell you some of the story for outfielders, and in his time spent in left field in 2013,Gattis had a UZR of -7.3 and a -10 DRS number. Yikes.
One of my favorite Braves-related statistical quirks is what you're about to see below. This is Gattis' 2013 & 2014 numbers.
|2013||Braves||105||382||21||44||65||0||5.5 %||21.2 %||.237||.255||.243||.291||.480||.329||109||-0.2||3.7||-6.8||0.9|
|2014||Braves||108||401||22||41||52||0||5.5 %||24.2 %||.230||.298||.263||.317||.493||.352||125||-2.1||9.3||0.0||2.3|
Most of the numbers are somewhat similar, except for the WAR number at the end. Of course, Gattis did make some strides offensively, but were his offensive strides worth nearly exactly 2 more wins according to Fangraphs? My theory is that it's the fact that he wasn't weighing down the team with his awful outfield play contributed to the fact that even though he was a subpar defensive catcher last season, he was still more valuable at the backstop than he was as an outfielder. So on the field, this is a no-brainer: The Braves would be a better team with Evan Gattis as a catcher.
Now, if we as fans know that Evan Gattis is more valuable to the Braves as a catcher than an outfielder, then surely MLB executives who know a lot more about baseball than we do can see this as well. More importantly, they see that most of the value that Gattis brings is at the plate, where he can definitely bring a jolt of power to any team's lineup.
So, it can't be much of a coincidence that most of the trade rumors that Gattis has been involved in have included American League teams such as the Astros, Rangers, and Royals. Why is that? Because they know that if they were ever to acquire Gattis, there's 2 places where he could be of value to them: As catcher, or as a Designated Hitter. In fact, that's probably the perfect position for Evan Gattis as a baseball player, because it takes all of the bad defense out of the equation and lets El Oso Blanco do what he does best: Hit baseballs with a ridiculous amount of force.
Assuming that the Braves enter 2015 with Gattis still a Brave, the best way to make him look as valuable as possible on the trading block would be to keep him behind the plate. Now granted, no AL team is going to see the Braves use Gattis in left field and think "Well hey now, that seems like a pretty good idea! We should do it too!" They'll probably stick him at DH.
However, there's also a possibility that this could be thrown into disarray with a Justin Upton offseason trade that doesn't include Evan Gattis in the package. Unless another LF is signed (or Dian Toscano comes into Spring Training and blows his projections out of the water and becomes a Major League-ready starting left fielder), then the Braves will probably be forced to start Gattis in left. That's no good. It'd probably hurt Gattis' value a bit since he'd more-than-likely continue be a mess out there, and if his plate production slips, then that's trouble for any potential return that the Braves could get in a trade. That'd clearly hurt his value in the eyes of any NL suitor, and any AL suitors who don't have a catcher/DH vacancy would probably be a bit wary as well.
But, the main point is this: If the Braves are going to maximize Gattis' value on the trade market, it'd be better for them to show him off with his defensive warts at catcher and proven bat, instead of showing him off with the defensive abscesses and boils he has in left field. That may include waiting until next season to make the big Upton move as well, but the Braves have plenty of options here.
Whatever happens though, it's clear that John Hart and the Braves are in a position of power here. With the years of team control and the power that Gattis would bring to a lineup, it's obvious that the Braves aren't in a position of desperation here. They can be as patient as they want to be when it comes to pursuing a deal with Gattis involved, but right now, they'd be much better off making sure that Gattis is being showcased as a catcher and not in left field.