Jon Singleton will outhit Evan Gattis.
There are few players more overrated by their home market fans than ol’ Triples Gattis was for most of 2015. The friendly lumberjack with the prodigious power is a natural fit for the casual, blue-collar Houston baseball fan. As a testament to this, the Astros’ marketing department rewarded Gattis in September with his own Bobblehead day at Minute Maid Park.
But, even before a playoff swoon that soured some fans, Gattis stunk in 2015. His .285 on-base percentage and 0.5 bWAR over 604 plate appearances hint at a player not pulling his weight for a title contender. His 4-for-23 post-season with no walks or extra-base hits is too small of a sample to penalize Gattis independent of his larger body of work. But that’s the point. The larger body of work was not any good, either.
It’s one thing to say a team’s designated hitter is a replacement-level player: capable of being matched by the average team’s hypothetical competent Triple-A filler. It is another thing to have an actual replacement on hand.
As a minor-leaguer, Singleton has been a tremendous hitter against right-handed pitching. In 2015, he hit .290/.414/.595 in the PCL vs. right-handed pitching, an OPS over 1.000. He struggled mightily against lefties, as many left-handed sluggers do, but he was simply too good for the right-handed pitching he was facing.
The Astros lineup is anchored by four very good right-handed hitters who profile to hit in the top five or six — Springer, Altuve, Correa and Carlos Gomez. Beyond that core are Colby Rasmus, Luis Valbuena and Jason Castro, the team’s returning left-handed regulars. The trio all slot in as back-of-the-order hitters (though Valbuena and Rasmus each took a turn in 2015 in the heart of the order to break up the string of righties).
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Gattis, a free-swinging right-handed hitter in a lineup loaded with them, is a redundant asset. All of his most distinctive traits — aggression, raw power, a low walk rate — are held by other players who are clearly superior to him overall. To balance the lineup and make themselves harder to attack in late innings and post-season series, the Astros need patient left-handed hitters around their core, not another undisciplined right-handed bat.
Because of service time concerns with A.J. Reed, both Singleton and Gattis should start 2015 with at least semi-regular at-bats. Personally, I am skeptical that A.J. Hinch truly wants to play Singleton (if he did, Chris Carter, Gattis, and Valbuena would not have been extended such patience by the manager in 2015). I assume Singleton has a short leash, and Gattis will be given the meaningless veteran respect his past performance does not warrant. I don’t have the access or insight to understand the clubhouse politics and/or data behind that suspicion. It is merely my own instinct.
Meanwhile, fans are also down on Singleton. His 2014 rookie audition was a flop, and his marijuana revelation and open-button uniform rub the emotional armchair-psychologist subset of the fanbase the wrong way. (That’s the polite way of describing that cohort.)
But the overall body of evidence we have on the two players suggests Singleton is both a better hitter and a stronger fit for this team. I believe he puts up a strong April, particularly against right-handed pitching, and forces Hinch’s hand. When Reed arrives to boost the 1B/DH mix, the rookie takes most of Gattis’s playing time, not Singleton’s.
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