Catcher is not a simple job. Neither is designated hitter. Just ask a certain Houston Astros slugger.
Though it appears simple on the surface, the designated hitter role in baseball has its own intricacies. The Houston Astros own Evan Gattis can probably attest to that notion.
Unlike other positions on a baseball team, a designated hitter faces an unusual reality: be part of the game about 50% of the time. In other words, you are there just to hit. Not defense. That was Gattis’ world in 2015.
Once a catcher by trade with the Atlanta Braves, Gattis found himself penciled in as the Astros almost everyday designated hitter following the 2015 winter trade to Houston. This position change did make sense on the surface.
After all, the Astros already had Jason Castro entrenched as the team’s starting catcher. The backup job was in the air for a while, but even that was decided with the acquisition of Hank Conger from the Los Angeles Angels that same winter.
This essentially forced Gattis to designated hitter, which was the plan all along. And the reasoning behind this position change was appealing.
1.) Keep “El Oso Blanco” healthy and see what his bat can accomplish for an entire season.
2.) The best defensive catchers field while the hitters can just hit.
However, the move to designated hitter wasn’t a resounding success for Gattis.
In 523 at-bats last season as the DH, Gattis slashed a .247/.285/.451 batting line. Not terrible, but also not good. His sOPS+ as the designated hitter was 90 with a 100 score being break even.
Outside his 27 home runs and eleven triples(!), Gattis was close to replacement level once you consider his overall WAR of 0.5 in 2015. So as a designated hitter he did not provide much value to the Astros.
The 2016 season didn’t improve the situation either. In fact, it became worse.
In 200 at-bats as the DH this year, Gattis has posted a batting line of .210/.286/.340 with six home runs and 21 RBI. His sOPS+ as the designated hitter is an abysmal 64 entering yesterday. That is simply not good, just not good.
More from Climbing Tal's Hill
- Just how much better is the Houston Astros playoff rotation than the rest?
- Houston Astros: A Lineup Change to Spark Offense
- Astros prospect Hunter Brown throws 6 shutout innings in debut
- Always faithful Astros World Series champion Josh Reddick defends the title
- Michael Conforto declines Astros’ 2-year, $30 million offer
So much for Gattis as the designated hitter, right?
Well, thankfully for Gattis that the Astros didn’t have a backup catcher to rely upon early in the season. And his season has been resurrected because of it.
Following a stint in the minors to shake the rust off of his catching skills, the former Braves catcher now finds himself producing not only as a hitter but as a fielder as well.
In 132 at-bats as a catcher, Gattis has an impressive hitting line of .288/.326/.652 with a sOPS+ of 171. This production nearly alone has contributed to him posting a 1.5 WAR before September. Don’t forget that he did miss a few weeks earlier on this season due to injury and shaping up his catching skills.
Gattis’ catching skills haven’t been bad, nor great. Just average. And that is fine.
Per StatCorner Catcher Report, “El Oso Blanco” has a 2.7 RAA. For comparison sake, Castro’s RAA is 13.3. And his pitch framing skills are not of the same ilk as Castro either.
So there is definitely a difference, but there are far worse options at backup catcher than Gattis.
Does that mean the Astros should make Gattis the primary catcher in 2017?
Simply no. But he should no doubt stay as a catcher. His splits support that argument.
You need more of a defensive presence as your primary catcher. Now, that isn’t a knock on Gattis, but the Astros could be better off if he served as their backup catcher next season. At the end of the day, the team will have to determine how much they value Gattis. Especially when he has a $5.2 million team option on the horizon.
**Statistics provided by Baseball-Reference and StatCorner Catcher Report**