Atlanta Braves catcher Evan Gattis was supposed to tell us a lot this season. After a power-filled 2013, fans and analysts seemed to take two different paths when discussing the 26-year-old rookie. The fans thought he was ready to breakout, while the analysts saw plenty of signs that pointed to regression. Who was right in 2014? After looking at his stats, it’s fair to say no one. Gattis put up mostly identical numbers during his sophomore season. He posted an identical walk rate, a slightly elevated strikeout rate and hit one more home run in 2014. While the overall offensive performance was better based on his batting line and wOBA, you couldn’t call it a breakout. That wasn’t necessarily the case at midseason, when Gattis was looking like an elite offensive catcher.
As you may have guessed, it was a tale of two halves for Gattis. Over his first 224 at-bats, he was an All-Star. Gattis hit .290/.342/.558 during the first half of the year. Those numbers came to a screeching halt in the second half, when he hit .221/.278/.393 over his last 145 at-bats. We’re not dealing with strong sample sizes here, and that can always cause trouble. Still, given the precipitous decline, it’s probably worth looking into what caused Gattis’ second half slump.
Not surprisingly, an injury was involved. Gattis missed 22 days in between late-June and early-July due to a bulging disc in his back. That definitely can explain some, if not all, of his second half issues. That wasn’t all, though. On top of the back issue, Gattis also dealt with a bout of strep throat and kidney stones in September. The last couple months of the season were not kind to Gattis.
For the purpose of this article, let’s assume that 100% of Gattis’ second half struggles were due to his injuries. That may not be the case, but let’s assume it was. With that in the back of our minds, we can look at whether he showed any new or improving skills in the first half that might carry over into 2015.
The two biggest outliers during Gattis’ early stretch was his power and his BABIP. As far as his power goes, we kind of have to throw our hands up in the air. We expect Gattis to have a power-heavy approach. Though a 20.3 home run rate in the first half seems high, he posted a 17.1 home run rate during his rookie season. Maybe he got lucky, but it’s clear he’s going to hit a lot of home runs.
The BABIP is more difficult to explain. During Gattis’ rookie season, his BABIP sat at just .255. Given that we it was his first season, it was tough to know whether this was low, high or just right for Gattis. His sophomore year complicated that a bit. In the first half, Gattis was finding a ton of holes. During the first couple months of the season, Gattis had a .314 BABIP. This happened for a couple of reasons, his BABIP on both line drives and ground balls was much higher than league average. At the same time, he was near the top of the league in hard-hit rate, which may explain the boost. That luck didn’t carry over into the second half.
However, there’s still some hope for Gattis. Even though his line and overall numbers were awful in the second half, his BABIP was still .271. That’s slightly higher than his rookie figure, suggesting maybe he’s capable of hitting for a higher average over a full season. If his various injuries also had an impact on his BABIP, then maybe there’s even more room for improvement.
Since Gattis isn’t a big walker, his average becomes even more important to his value. While a .317 on-base percentage isn’t great, it was exactly average compared to other National League catchers last year. The problem is, Gattis needs to post a line that’s better than the average player. He can do that if his BABIP gains were legitimate. That seems possible given he was able to improve on his BABIP when he was clearly injured. A return to super-stardom seems unlikely, but there’s certainly value in a catcher who can pop 25 home runs and hit .260.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.