The Braves’ 26-year-old rookie, Evan Gattis, is on fire, triple-slashing .391/.440/.826 in his first 6 games and 25 plate appearances. Some were skeptical that Gattis would be a very good everyday player. Some were overly joyed at Gattis’ minor league performance and the possibility that he could be a great major league hitter. The folks who were gung ho for Gattis are happy so far. The more skeptical crowd realizes it’s too early to draw too many conclusions about Gattis, especially considering the pitchers he’s faced so far. There are probably extremes on both sides of this Gattis thing.
Here are the pitchers off of which Gattis has gotten hits:
2 hits of LeBlanc who has a career ERA+ of 86
2 hits off Feldman who has a career ERA+ of 94
2 hits off of Alex Sanabia, a 24-year-old with 94 major league innings and a 104 ERA+
A hit of the 2013 version of Roy Halladay, who has walked 7.4 batters per 9 IP in his first two starts.
A hit off of Hector Rondon, who isn’t exactly a control artist.
A hit off of Chad Qualls who, at this point, is barely hanging on as a big league reliever.
So essentially he’s done his damage off of Triple-A or “Quad-A” pitching. He did plenty of damage in the minors but was a physical beast playing against guys in their early 20’s, having never played above Double-A, so there are reasons to temper the excitement.
And when we are tempted to pay too much attention to early season small samples, we need look no further than 2006 Detroit Tiger Chris Shelton’s start. Shelton triple-slashed .512/.535/1.293 in his first 10 games and 43 plate appearances of the 2006 season. Shelton played his last major league game only 3 years later. However Shelton was a decent hitter. He just wasn’t a good enough hitter to make up for his complete lack of defensive value. Even if Gattis is no more than a Chris Shelton, because Gattis can at least be a serviceable catcher, he’s likely to have a more impressive career. But the point is we can’t overlook that Gattis has only played in 6 major league games.
But if it’s too early to discount what he’s accomplished, it’s also too early to say he’s definitely no more than a bench player that shouldn’t get many starts. There’s no doubt Gattis has power and some skills. The indication is that he can be a major league catcher, if for no other reason than the Braves are willing to put him behind the plate regularly. Even if it turns out that he’s not a very good catcher, the Braves deserve some credit for looking at his entire game, what he can add with his offense, and not putting too much emphasis on possible defensive shortcomings. Runs are runs, whether the team is preventing them or creating them from a particular position.
Those who are too gung ho on either of the two sides should calm down and just wait it out. We’ll know soon enough what the Braves have in Evan Gattis. Then again, maybe not. It could take over a full season to know who Gattis is. By the time we truly have a grasp of who he was, the best parts of his career could be over. Think back to Johnny Estrada. He came to the majors at a more advanced age than most players, had a great season and by the time we realized he wasn’t all that good, he was playing for other teams and soon enough was out of baseball. There is a lot we can know in baseball. We can measure and account for almost anything and everything that happens. But there is also plenty that surprises us just enough to keep us coming back. Whether Gattis sustains this and keeps on surprising us or he just surprised us until he doesn’t, let’s view things through a skeptical lens but enjoy what he’s doing for as long as he does it.