The Braves have excelled at the catcher position for quite a lengthy time, from Javy Lopez, Eddie Perez, Johnny Estrada, David Ross, and McCann. The team not only has shown the ability to have a quality starter at the position for a long time but they have also often had quality back ups. This year the Braves will enter the season with Gerald Laird backing up Gattis, which provides a quality defensive option behind the slugger. Christian Bethancourt is also waiting in the wings to potentially back up Gattis as well or even start if Gattis struggles. The latter is certainly a possibility, so let us take a look at what to expect from Gattis next season.
ZiPS is not yet out to project his performance for next year, so I took a look at Steamer projections over at FanGraphs.com. Steamer has some lofty expectations for Gattis, as it projects him to hit .256/.309/.470 with 26 home runs, 31 doubles, and 77 RBI. If Gattis hit that well, McCann’s lost would sting a whole lot less. I think the line is very possible, though probably slightly on the optimistic side. Gattis had just a .255 BABIP last year, so there is a good chance that rises at least a bit and helps out his overall line. However, with poor plate discipline and a decently high strikeout rate, I don’t think expecting anything more than a .315 OBP is something to bet on. If he OBP’s between .290-.310 with the power he had last year then the Braves will have one of the better offensive catchers in the National League.
With a minimum of 350 plate appearances, Evan Gattis finished 12th in the game in ISO – which represents a players overall power. He finished with a .237 mark, higher than Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Evan Longoria, and Mike Napoli to name a few. I am not going to be bold enough to expect him to top that mark, or even reach it, but there is certainly a possibility he does. I would expect somewhere more in the .210-.225 range which would be the top among all catchers last season. Only one catcher even had more home runs than Gattis last season, and it was Matt Wieters in just under 600 plate appearances. Gattis leading major league catchers in home runs is more than possible, it is almost likely if he stays on the field. His biggest competition will probably be McCann now that he will be in a much friendly left-handed hitting ballpark – and in much friendlier divisional parks as well.
The next thing to look at is Gattis’s defense. I went into the year without seeing a ton of Gattis behind the plate, and with his build I thought he was going to be one of the worst defenders in the game. I was pleasantly surprised with his defense, but that probably has to do with my expectations being so low. Catcher defensive starts are very hard to trust, so I won’t quote them here. He threw out exactly one third of attempted base stealers last year, catching eight of 24, which is respectable from a catcher with such an offensive presence. Obviously he will see that number increase with an expanded role behind the plate, but his arm was very solid and probably his best tool behind the plate. The big things for Gattis will be to focus on framing, blocking pitches, and calling games. McCann made his bones defensively in these three defensive aspects and it will be a big loss if Gattis does not prove to be adequate over the course of the year in these three areas.
Overall I think expecting Gattis to be a three win player is reasonable. His defense should probably be expected to be from below average to average, and his offense will probably be entirely predicated on his power. He should step into the clean up role perfectly, batting right behind Freddie Freeman which should give him a lot of opportunities to drive in a number of runs. I think him being able to solely focus on catching and hitting will be a big deal, as his usage as a utility guy last year did correlate with lower offensive production over the course of the year. While it is difficult to say that is a reason his offense declined, he did start to struggle more and more as he played more positions. The possibility that his lower production was due to the league figuring out his flaws is certainly real, and we will see if that was the case as Gattis attempts to replace one of the best players in Atlanta Braves history.