Will Evan Gattis be on a short leash with the Houston Astros in 2016?
Normally I wouldn’t say this of a hitter when a team like the Houston Astros trades a trio of well-regarded prospects for just over one year ago. But you can thank the emergence of Tyler White and the promise of A.J. Reed for this sudden change of thought.
Before you get too excited, I want to be clear about one thing: Evan Gattis will most likely be the Astros’ designated hitter once he returns from his stint on the disabled list. However, he must improve on last season’s numbers and hold off the promising combo of White and Reed if he hopes to remain in the Astros lineup in the long-term.
Acquired last year from the Atlanta Braves along with James Hoyt in exchange for Rio Ruiz, Mike Foltynewicz, and Andrew Thurman, the burly slugger had a “career” season in 2015. He set career-high in various offensive statistics like home runs (27) and RBI (88) and appeared in an also career-high 153 games. Gattis also managed to cut down on strikeouts with the increased playing time, which is definitely a good sign. And who can forget about those eleven beautiful, yet awkward, triples? Sounds like that is the definition of a valuable designated hitter for a contending team like the Astros, but only if you believe in the power of counting statistics.
However, Gattis’ advanced statistics don’t paint such a rosy picture. 0.0 WAR and 99 wRC+ per Fangraphs; 0.9 oWAR and -16 RAA per Baseball-Reference. And his .285 on-base percentage was just abysmal. So basically he was anywhere from an average to below average player in 2015. Even his reduced strikeout numbers can’t hide the fact that he rarely drew a walk.
Then there is the fact that he doesn’t have a true position. Left field would be a potential option if it wasn’t for Colby Rasmus and Jake Marisnick. Gattis used to catch so maybe a move to backup catcher could in his future, however, that has become increasingly doubtful since his injury and the recent acquisition of Erik Kratz from the San Diego Padres. Even first base doesn’t seem to be a particularly good fit. And don’t forget that the designated hitter role has essentially evolved from a slugger’s job to basically another spot of roster flexibility. Then there is the issue of future salary owed, $5.2 million on a club option with a $100 thousand buyout, to basically a near-one dimensional player.
And this is where White and Reed fit into the equation. Both are young, cost controlled players for the foreseeable future. Remember that cost controlled players have traditionally appealed to Astros ownership and that is what they get with White and Reed. And both offer more of an intriguing upside than Gattis, however, they will have to perform well for the Astros to consider moving on from “El Oso Blanco” in-season.
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Honestly it isn’t farfetched to think that both White and Reed will be on the major league roster at the same time in 2016. White has already made the team as the primary first baseman after being the Astros’ most consistent hitter at camp. And Reed may not be too far behind once the arbitration clock resets. It is plausible to envision moving White to designated hitter if 1.) Gattis struggles/injuries take place, and 2.) Reed makes a strong case to be called up in the near future.
Odds are that the Astros will be more than happy with Gattis if he continues to improve as a hitter, i.e. draw more walks and improve his quality of at-bats. Getting on-base more would be a big step in the right direction. He did post a respectable 2.2 WAR with the Braves in 2014. That same year his wRC+ was 126. So it may be a bit premature to write off Gattis in 2016 until he actually returns to full health following his offseason hernia surgery. However, the team is prepared to move on with White and Reed if change is needed. And that is why we could see Gattis staring down a murky future with the Astros in 2016 and beyond.
**Statistics provided by Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference**
**Contract information provided by Spotrac**