Evan Gattis' bat continues to produce for Braves
JUN 04, 2014 8:42a ET
ATLANTA -- The Braves front office placed multiple long-term bets during the past offseason. The majority of the moves fell under the contract extension umbrella as the organization made national noise by locking up substantial pieces to its young corps in rapid succession. Those deals totaled north of $300 million -- a collective financial commitment that will affect the club's payroll long after it moves into its new stadium in 2017.
In terms of the franchise's identity and overall direction, though, two of the most crucial decisions general manager Frank Wren and his staff made did not concern 25-and-under guys â¦ instead, it was the $108 million or so that they did not commit to two established veterans. The Braves' choice to walk away from signing veteran starter Tim Hudson and long-time catcher Brian McCann to lucrative offseason deals, in turn allowing the Giants and Yankees, respectively, to cut sizable checks in free agency, set the tone for everything that followed. With Hudson and McCann locked in, Julio Teheran, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons and Craig Kimbrel are not each guaranteed to be in a Braves uniform for the foreseeable future.
One of these decisions resurfaced this week when Hudson's comments on the Braves' decision to let him walk made headlines, sparking reactionary pieces centering around the discussion point of his excellent numbers with the Giants this season coming off ankle surgery and whether Atlanta should have opened up the checkbook and kept him around. (Financially, as previously mentioned, it simply did not make perfect sense to pay the type of money the Giants paid for a 39-year-old pitcher coming off ankle surgery, with or without the season-ending injuries to starters Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy. As Hudson has said, the Braves stepped up and made a late push, but even he has been surprised by his performance.) Still, there's little doubt that if the numbers could have worked out that the Braves, despite their third-place spot in team pitching WAR this season, would more than welcome another sub-2.00 ERA back into the fold.
The other decision, given the $85 million at stake, is looking more and more like a steal.
When Brian McCann signed a five-year free agent contract in New York this offfseason, the Braves were left with no choice. They had depth at the catcher position and zero wiggle room on the payroll. There was no high-stakes bidding on the seven-time All-Star, which looked like a smart decision back in December. Now, given the forceful offensive production of one Evan Gattis, who is far outpacing McCann through the first third of the '14 schedule, the Braves are moving forward in a much better situation behind the plate.
Gattis hit his 12th home run of the season on Tuesday night in a loss to Seattle as part of a dominant 2-for-4 night that included a walk and three RBI. No other catcher in baseball has hit more than nine homers this season -- a power display that has come in limited plate appearances due to both splitting time and a couple health hiccups.
The second-year standout ranks fifth among all catchers in terms of weighted runs created (wRC+, minimum 100 plate appearances) and that comes in direct correlation with his jump in power. Last season, he averaged a home run for every 16.86 at-bats. This time around? He's hitting one out every 12.17 at-bats, which doesn't even account for a higher walk rate and better average.
Overall, Gattis is hitting .260/.314/.548 while posting decent defensive numbers, good enough for a 1.5 WAR (tied for the fourth-best mark among all catchers). Gattis believes that his increase in production -- his wRC+ is up 27 points from his rookie year -- comes from a variety of factors, mainly centered around getting used to being an everyday player.
"I'm in a comfortable position," Gattis said on Tuesday night. "That might have something to do with it. I know coming into the year a lot of times I was thinking more about playing left field than hitting. â¦ Or just playing regularly, too. I find myself getting more comfortable -- like today, even though I struck out (against ), I started feeling comfortable in that at-bat. Different ways to approach different guys."
Gattis also said that with a season under his belt, he's put in more time studying not just the opposing starting pitcher but opponents' bullpens and their tendencies. It's all part of the transition process into being a starter on a regular basis -- he is not the first guy to credit improved offensive production to regular ABs. He wasn't going to find such a comfort zone with McCann still in Atlanta.
Back to McCann. Even with Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch, McCann is posting some of the worst offensive numbers of his career. That could come with the acclimation process to playing in a new home park in a new league for the first time in his career (for a middle-of-the-pack AL team right now), but it's untimely and hard to ignore who has been the better of the two catching options at this point, especially without considering the financial implications. Here's how Gattis and McCann stack up (entering Wednesday's games):
Gattis: .260/.314/.548, 12 home runs, 137 wRC+, 1.5 WAR
McCann: .234/.295/.380, seven home runs, 86 wRC+, 0.7 WAR
McCann meant plenty to this Braves organization. Just ask around the clubhouse. At his best, he was one of the best hitting catchers in recent memory. Pitchers lauded him for the way he called a game defensively. He, along with Hudson, were two of the team's bona fide leaders. But there's little question that the organization is getting more bang for its buck with Gattis, especially for the 2014 season. (The team has yet to place its long-term bet on the catcher position, given Gattis' limited experience and top catching prospect Christian Bethancourt waiting in the wings at Triple-A Gwinnett. Nothing has been officially announced, or perhaps decided, but Gattis is doing anything but relinquishing the job.)
With Gattis manning the middle of the lineup behind Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton, the Braves have one of the most potent power threats in the National League and, judging by his comments, he's only learning and getting more comfortable in the box. He's far from a finished product, as is to be expected from a guy with such little relative experience, but there aren't too many catchers posting better offensive numbers right now. At any rate, it's certainly head to argue with Wren's decision.