For most of the offense, we kind of know what to expect. The Braves lineup is filled with young players but they are mostly young players that have a track record in the majors as they have been around for some time. Of course there are variances in the early goings of the season and some players are hot while others are cool, but we still have a good general sense of what to expect from most of the position players offensively for the season.
The two we had less of an understanding about entering the year were Andrelton Simmons and Evan Gattis. Both were in their first full year in the majors last year and saw productive offensive seasons compared to expectations. This year, there was quite a few different point of views on what to expect from each of them.
In 2013, Gattis got off to a great start but being a guy with prestigious power and not a whole ton else offensively, some worried that he got figured out as he amassed more major league plate appearances. With Simmons, we saw two very stark contrasts of his offense in his first year plus of major league baseball. The first year he was a light hitting, high average guy while last year he was a power hitting, low average guy. We just did not know, and we still do not know, what exactly Simmons will be offensively.
With that said, let’s take a look and see what both have done so far and if this helps us in our projections going forward.
It is pretty amazing how quickly Gattis’ numbers have mirrored his 2013 marks. His line last year was .243/.291/.480 and this year it is .246/.290/.492. The slight uptick in walks and slight power improvements are positives, which is why his wRC+ currently sits just above his 110 mark from last season at 113. Of course, an 0’fer could make those marks equal or a two home run game could make his numbers look a lot different. Everything is about context, but right now Gattis looks a whole heck of a lot like the Gattis we saw last year. This gives us at least some level of confidence that Gattis is who he is, an all power catcher who can put up 30+ home runs given a full season of plate appearances at catcher. To say that has a ton of value would be an understatement, even with a sub-.300 OBP.
There are certain elements to Gattis’ game that, if he were to improve upon, he could be a downright elite level catcher. The main focus is the walk rate. He has shown patience at times in areas where he has lacked in the past. Specifically, against Wily Peralta two days ago he spit on a slider that was in the strike zone all the way until it crossed the plate on a 3-2 count. He coaxed two walks that day, the first time he had ever done that in a game. As Gattis gets more familiar with the majors he will likely be more willing to learn about the art of hitting from the likes of Greg Walker rather than just utilizing his brute, natural skills. If he is able to up his walk rate even to around 8%, he could push himself into close to elite level territory for catchers. He already has as much power as any catcher in the league, and while he will likely never hit for a high average, if he can get his on base percentage up above .300 he will be a force to be reckoned with.
So far, Simmons has somewhat mixed his 2012 and 2013 seasons, which is more-or-less exactly what we all hoped would happen. I doubt he is a regular 17+ home run guy, but I do think he has the contact skills to hit in the .270-.290 range rather than the .248 mark he recorded last year.
His walk rate being down is certainly a concern, but he keeps his strikeout rate so low that as long as he continues to improve his swing, he should be able to perform well for shortstops offensively. His BABIP of .247 was low last year, but that was mainly due to his insane amount of pop ups. He led the league in pop ups last year, and while it is slightly better to pop up than strike out, it isn’t much better. He essentially was trading an extraordinarily low strikeout rate for pop ups, which is more of a lateral move rather than an improvement. This year he has just four infield fly balls compared to the 38 he had last year. With the pop ups down and the strikeouts still around 8%, his BABIP has jumped up back to the level you would expect from a guy with the type of hand eye coordination that Simmons has.
If Simmons can be a guy who nets a wRC+ between 100-110 he can push himself into legitimate MVP conversations due to his stellar defense, even if he will lack the votes because voters don’t value defense too heavily on those types of awards. One thing we would like to see is at least a few more walks. I don’t think he will ever be a guy with a great approach, but even at his career 5.7% walk rate with the type of contact skills he has displayed this season, he will be a force offensively rather than just a defensive wizard who occasionally runs into a home run.