Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Does Gattis in Left Improve the Team in 2015?

Joel Sherman has penned an article for the New York Post where he says John Hart is currently interested in moving Evan Gattis from catcher-to-left as an answer to the woes that hurt the Braves in 2014.

And this is why we can't have nice things...

I get the idea that Gattis behind the plate limits the offensive impact he can have due to the amount of days off he requires. I get that Christian Bethancourt's defense could be useful even if his bat comes with serious questions. I even get that the Braves have a pair of free agents-to-be in the corner outfield spots and can't keep both and it's not looking promising that they will even keep one. I understand all of this and accept it as the nature of things right now.

What I can't accept is a situation where Gattis in left field improves the Braves in 2015. I can't accept this for a myriad of reasons. Now, in full disclosure, Hart did tell DOB, probably in efforts to put out some fires, that no decision to move Gattis to left has been made. Nevertheless, let's look at this.

1) While his bat is an unquestioned plus as a catcher, it doesn't stand out in left field. Can you find two players to post a .263/.317/.493 slash as a platoon in left? Maybe not, but I think you could find something close. Can you find that production behind the plate? Unless you got $15-20M somewhere, no. For all of his power, Gattis is unlikely to out-hit Justin Upton. If the Braves choose to deal away Jason Heyward, Gattis might out-hit him, though something has to be said for J-Hey's on-base skills. You might say that Gattis certainly will out-hit B.J. Upton and you'd be right, but the defensive questions of playing an elite corner outfielder in center regularly, a below average-to-average defender in right (J-Up), and Gattis in left have is too much for me to consider it a real option.

2) If the goal is to improve offense, how does adding C-Beth to the lineup help? His .248/.274/.274 slash in the majors can be improved, especially the slugging, but his minor league OBP is .300 for a reason. There's not much more offense you can reasonably expect from him. His value is almost entirely in his glove.

3) Speaking of defense and value, Gattis is likely to see his value disappear in left. His -7.3 UZR in 47 starts in left field during 2013 is pretty bad and that's with Gattis only completing 16 games in left.

4) And that's the other thing. You need to have an outfielder to caddy Gattis. I suppose that could be the recently signed Zoilo Almonte or possibly Todd Cunningham, but that also limits your manager. You are taking out the same bat you felt had to be in the lineup more in close games for defensive purposes and getting stuck with the repercussions if you cough up the lead. If Tommy La Stella is in the lineup, you probably are replacing him, too. Hell, Chris Johnson should be replaced in close games as well. Kind of nutty to have so many potential moving pieces with a shorten bench because it's the NL.

5) If the goal is to make moves designed for a potential 2017 run (i.e. short rebuild) as DOB suggests, are you really hitching your future to Gattis, a 28 year-old with two seasons in the majors, neither of which did he avoid injuries?

6) And that's also another thing. Gattis missed time in 2013 with an oblique and in 2014 with a back issue. This came after a 2012 minor league campaign that was limited to just 74 games. Given that catchers do break down considerably quicker than other positions, am I to believe that Gattis is suddenly going to play significantly more than 100 games, that Hart believes he's limited to as a catcher, because he's off stumbling around in left?

I could probably go on, but I still haven't been able to squint and see where Gattis in left makes the Braves a better team in 2015? Want to get CBeth's defense into the everyday lineup? Fine, trade Gattis. Want to make a move with the free agents to be J-Up and J-Hey? Fine, trade them. Want to do a quick rebuild? Don't think you need to do that, but trade all three of them. Get a couple of outfielders and starters out of the deal and move on. But Gattis to left so you can get Bethancourt into the lineup screams of half-assery.

And please don't tell me "the Cards had Matt Holliday in left and they still won." Before last year, Holliday was still putting up elite production. Last year stopped a streak of eight years with a wOBA of .378 or better. Gattis isn't that type of player. And even if Holliday was horrendous in the field, he was a better left fielder than Gattis. And Travis Ishikawa posted a solid UZR and wasn't even their main left fielder.

This isn't exactly new ground, either. After coming back from injury in 1998 and with Mike Piazza replacing him behind the plate, Todd Hundley was sent to left field. It was ugly and the Mets and Hundley essentially gave up after a month-and-a-half. You might think Josh Willingham also did the move, but he actually moved to catcher after they searched for a position for him. They eventually labelled the experiment a failure and moved him back away from catcher.

The bad thing about this also comes down to this...Gattis loses his trade value if this move actually happens. After a year in left, teams that were okay at catcher this offseason and may need help next offseason are probably going to have to think twice about going after an ex-catcher to aid their backstop issues.

Ultimately, like I said, it's not that I don't get the rationale. Hell, in Out of the Park, it might work out. It damn well would have worked out in MLB:The Show. In real life? Well, in real life, this is just a bad idea.

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