Sunday, November 1, 2015

Exit Music (For A Player): Evan Gattis

Hey, the wounds are still fresh, so it seems like a fine time to do some evaluating. This is the Exit Music (For A Player) series. Check out other Exit Music (For A Player) posts here

Acquired: Acquired via trade on January 14, 2015 with Atlanta. The Astros sent Mike Foltynewicz, Andrew Thurman, and Rio Ruiz to Atlanta in exchange for Gattis and James Hoyt.

Age: 29. Gattis will be 30 next August.

Contract Status: Arbitration-eligible for the 1st time, won't be a free agent until 2019.


By now you know the legends: former janitor turned giant gummy bear-eating lumberjack with a cool nickname. But it goes deeper than that. He played on traveling All-Star teams in the Dallas area with Clayton Kershaw, Austin Jackson, Billy Butler, Homer Bailey, and Justin Upton.

His first opportunity to get drafted would be 2004, when he was projected to go in the first eight rounds. Gattis had a scholarship offer to play first base from defending national champion Rice, but wanted to catch and instead signed with Texas A&M, and never made it to College Station. Alcohol and marijuana use during his senior year of high school led him to be admitted to Sundown Ranch Recovery Center instead of A&M, the pressure of succeeding causing him to self-medicate anxiety issues. He attended Seminole State Junior College but dropped out of school his sophomore year. He almost killed himself.

This is the part you might be familiar with. Over the next four years he was a car valet, a ski lift operator, a pizza cook, housekeeper, machinery operator, a golf cart attendant, and a janitor. A spiritualist told him, "Evan, maybe there's nothing wrong with your life at all. Maybe you just need to chill."

Then Gattis' stepbrother was playing at UT-Permian Basin, so Gattis went there and hit .403 and was drafted in the 23rd Round by the Braves, whose area scout said that Gattis "put on a power display that I'll never forget."

His first professional season in the Appalachian League, playing for Danville, Gattis hit .288/.339/.387 in 60 games with 44 strikeouts and just six walks in 242 plate appearances. Maybe your demons won't let you take a pitch. Maybe your past wants you to trot to first base, bat tossed toward the dugout, instead of just walking there.

In 2011 he advanced to Class-A Rome in the South Atlantic League and erupted for a .322/.386/.601 line with 24 doubles and 22 homers in 377 plate appearances, with 53K:25BB. In 2012 he played 74 games between the GCL (four games), Carolina League (21 games) and Double-A Mississippi in the Southern League. In those 314 plate appearances Gattis hit .305/.389/.607 with 20 doubles and 18 homers, with 43K:31BB. That winter he hit .309/.372/.623 in the Venezuelan Winter League, with 17 homers in 215 plate appearances.

That Double-A stint was just 49 games, so Gattis thought he'd open 2013 there and see how the season went as a 26-year old with less than a thousand plate appearances in professional baseball.

Instead Gattis got a non-roster invite to Spring Training where he hit .368 with six homer. Brian McCann was rehabbing his shoulder and Freddie Freeman was injured, so he made the Opening Day roster, supposed to just be a fill-in to open the 2013 season with the Braves.

In his first career Major League game, the second game of the Braves' 2013 season, he homered off of Roy Halladay in a 9-2 Braves win. In his second game, against the Cubs, Gattis singled twice off of Cubs starter Scott Feldman, going 3x4. Four days later he hit another homer and doubled, providing 2RBI in a 3-2 win at Miami. The next day he singled and homered. Three days after that he hit a two-run homer off Stephen Strasburg.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Gattis, "His story is nice. But that story isn't going to get him to the big leagues. Fifteen years from now, when he's an established major leaguers, that will be a nice book. But what's impressive about him now are his numbers." And so began a legend, a tall tale involving a tall man swinging a stick.

Gattis would finish 2013 with a .771 OPS, 21 homers - 2nd in the Majors for rookies, behind Jedd Gyorko's 23 HR in 173 fewer plate appearances - and 21 walks in 354 plate appearances. In four NLDS games against the Dodgers, Gattis got five hits - all singles.

That 2013 off-season Brian McCann signed a 5yr/$85m deal with the Yankees, giving Gattis a somewhat permanent position for the Braves. He hit .263/.317/.493 with 22 homers and 22 walks in 401 plate appearances in 2014 as the Braves went 79-83. The Astros pounced on the Braves' impending rebuild by trading for Gattis and late-blooming reliever James Hoyt for Hawt Prawspex Mike Foltynewicz, future Chipper Jones Rio Ruiz, and future Greg Maddux Andrew Thurman. This was one of the first signs the Astros were using their suddenly-deep farm system to make strides at the Major-League level.


So the Astros removed Catching from Gattis' list of responsibilities and installed him at DH and - occasionally - left field. He started out in a nightmare. Despite having never struck out four times in a game before, he did it twice in a row in Games 2 and 3 of the season. It wasn't until the 7th game of the season that Gattis got his first hit as an Astro, going 0x23 with 13 strikeouts to start 2015...which is stupid, of course.

Put it this way: in his first week as an Astro, Gattis hit .042/.080/.042. These are Middle Relievers Batting numbers. By the end of April, when the Astros were causing panic among writers around the nation, the anchor of the lineup had a .485 OPS. From May to the end of the regular season Gattis hit .258/.297/.489. These aren't world-altering numbers, but it was a slow enough start to the season to cost him some respect.

In September, when the Astros needed someone/anyone to step up, Gattis hit .270/.327/.490 with ten extra base hits including two triples, of course. Gattis was really good against righty starters: .262/.316/.491, with a .250/.291/.484 line against all righties; but just sorta terrible against lefties, hitting .237/.274/.424, and .223/.240/.424 against lefty starters. In 250 plate appearances against lefty starters, Gattis drew six walks. But you're not getting Evan Gattis for his on-base percentage, okay? The Astros knew exactly what they were getting: the power and the strikeouts. And the triples.

Eleven of them. That's a stupid number of triples for a guy who is 6'4" and 260 pounds. Only Kevin Kiermaier, who is the Rays' center fielder and is also 6'1"/195lbs, had more triples - and he only had 12. Dee Gordon? Mookie Betts? Anthony Gose? Dexter Fowler? They only had eight triples. Ben Revere? Seven triples. Lorenzo Cain and Mike Trout? Six triples. There is no understanding, there is only legend.

Gattis was extremely comfortable at Minute Maid Park: .273/.310/.509. On the road, Gattis hit .217/.259/.415. Thing is, Gattis swung at fewer pitches outside the strike zone than he had in the previous two seasons with the Braves: 37.5% in 2015 as opposed to 45.2% in 2013 and 41.7% in 2014.

Here's the thing: I look at 2015 much in the same way I do Gattis' first season in the minors: he was swinging to escape his past and to prove himself. That need to prove himself and kill the ball, and in the process of killing the ball to kill his past. The same guy who didn't make it to College Station out of fear of being a failure showed up in Houston to do the same thing.

In the end, here's what I return to when I think of Evan Gattis (courtesy of Hill713):

A little bit about this GIF. This GIF is from September 13 at Anaheim. In the top of the 9th the Astros were down 3-0 to the Angels. They made two quick outs and had a 0% win expectancy. Preston Tucker hit a solo home run to make it 3-1. George Springer hit a triple to right and scored when Altuve hit a first-pitch single to left off Huston Street to make it 3-2. Carlos Correa followed with a single up the middle to put runners on first and second, two outs, down 3-2 with Gattis' spot up. A.J. Hinch pinch-hit Jed Lowrie for Evan Gattis, who was 0x4 to that point in the game. Lowrie hit a three-run homer to make it 5-3 Astros, providing the final margin of the game, and giving the Astros a win over the Angels, who would lose the Wild Card spot by one game to the Astros. Now go back and watch that Gattis GIF a few more times. That's the reaction of the guy who wasn't allowed to face Huston Street, Hinch electing to take him out for the player that hit the game-winning homer. That's what I need to know about Evan Gattis.

Gattis was non-existent in the 2015 playoffs, going 4x23 with nary an extra-base hit, 6K:0BB, for a .174/.174/.174 line.


The biggest challenger to Gattis is Tyler White - the 2013 33rd Round pick out of Western Carolina who can be DH or 1B or 3B. In three minor-league seasons, White has hit .311/.422/.489 with 164K:174BB in 1249 plate appearances. White is wrapping up almost 500 plate appearances between Corpus and Fresno in which he hit .281/.415/.426 for Double-A Corpus and .362/.467/.559 for Triple-A Fresno. Next year will be his Age 25 season and, rest assured, we'll have more Tyler White content on this web site in the coming months. It's impossible to know what the Astros will do with Gattis: count on him getting more comfortable in Houston or do something else involving Gattis getting traded. What I know is that I love everything about Evan Gattis.

Franchise Marks:

*Gattis' 11 triples were tied for 8th in franchise history, and the most since Michael Bourn hit 12 triples in 2009. He's the 7th player in franchise history with 11+ triples.


Dallas Morning News: Area athlete's long road leads back to baseball (July 2010)
USA Today: "Evan Gattis wanders his way back to baseball" (February 2013)
USA Today: "All I could think about was killing myself" (April 2013)
NY Times: "From Janitor to Rookie, Hitting Fourth for Braves (April 2013)
Astros County: Astros were close to acquiring Evan Gattis before the Barves went all crazy (December 2014)
Astros County: Astros get Gattis; lose Folty, Ruiz, and Thurman (January 2015)
Astros County: Gattis booed by tens of Astros fans (April 2015)