Friday, October 9, 2015

Reviewing Hart's Trades: Gattis for Foltynewicz and Ruiz

The Braves have been active in John Hart's first season at the helm to the tune of SIXTEEN TRADES! Sixteen deals involving major league talent going one direction or in both. Sixteen deals that include over 50 different players, a few draft picks, lots of cash, and two Uptons. It's been friggin unreal to see what the Braves have done.

With most of the season in our rear view, it's time to start reviewing each one of these trades. This series is going take a little while to get through, but hey, it gives me something to write about.

Trades Already Reviewed
La Stella for Vizcaino
Heyward/Walden for Miller/Jenkins
Varvaro for Kurcz
J. Upton for Jace Peterson and prospects
Carp/Shreve for Banulos
Kubitza/Hyatt for Sanchez

The Trade
Evan Gattis and James Hoyt to the Astros for Rio Ruiz, Andrew Thurman, and Mike Foltynewicz. Take a look at my review of this deal from last January.

The Rationale
Oh, boy, did people hate this trade. The idea of trading an uber-popular, team-controlled, still cheap bat for a trio of prospects was hard enough, but coming on the heels of trades that sent Jason Heyward to the Cardinals and Justin Upton to the Padres shocked a number of people into anger.

Mike Zarrilli | Getty Sports
The thing about this trade is that it may tell us a lot about how you view value in baseball. Those that were upset about this trade, outside of those simply steamed by the package Atlanta received, were often mad because the Braves had given up their last power bat outside of Freddie Freeman. They didn't do it because Gattis was closing in on free agency - he was team-controlled through 2018. They weren't trading him because he was too expensive - he made near the minimum. They were trading the "catcher" for one reason. The National League doesn't have a DH. And fans of the trade were convinced that the Braves did well to get something for a guy who was miscast as a catcher, woeful in left field, and underutilized as a bench bat.

The Astros obviously didn't have the same issue as the Braves. They could DH Gattis and enjoy his legendary power every day in their lineup. All it cost them was three prospects. Foltynewicz was a smart chip to gamble on both ways. The Braves could work on getting a third pitch with Folty while the Astros could feel comfortable with knowing that Folty was likely going to be limited to a reliever. Ruiz was a well thought-of third baseman who many thought would develop more power. The right-hand pitching Thurman had added velocity after being drafted and was still trying to harness it. Of course, the Astros were rich in prospects anyway. Losing a couple for them was well worth the risk to provide punch to their current lineup.

Short-Term Results
And Gattis did provide a lot of punch. He belted 27 homers as he was able to stay healthy without the rigors of playing in the field. His raw power (ISO) was actually a little lower than it had been as a Brave (about .234 vs. .217 with the 'Stros), but the big thing was the 153 games allowing him to amass some big counting stats like the homerun number and the well publicized strange amount of triples Gattis had. He tripled just once with the Braves before tripling 11 times as an Astro. To put that in context, the Braves as a team tripled just 18 times in 6,034 trips to the plate. The Nationals tripled just two more times than Gattis. But baseball's a weird game.

Outside of some big counting stats (he also drove in 88), Gattis's numbers weren't that dissimilar to his Braves days. He walked about 5% of the time and struck out about 3% less than he had as a Brave. His BABIP was lower than it was in 2014 by a good margin, but not much lower than it was in 2013 when he hit .243. But while everyone seemed to complain about the powerless Braves, who barely reached 100 homers this season, while Gattis was sending mammoth blast after mammoth blast out of the park, the fact was that Gattis was, outside of 71 innings in left field, a DH. The thing about being a DH is that your entire value is in your bat and while Gattis could hit homers and oddly triple at a Deion Sanders-like rate, he couldn't do a lot else. He on-based .285 during the year and finished the season with 99 RC+. Average is 100. That accounts for a 0.0 fWAR. 604 plate appearances.

Certainly, the Braves could have used the power, but Gattis, once you take away his value as a catcher, is a power bat who can't do anything else. He certainly can't play left field. 413.1 innings over his career out in left = -25.6 UZR/150. We know he can't catch. The Braves did the best they could with a guy that wouldn't have been a good DH even if they had a DH in the National League.

Before I forget, Hoyt spent the year in the Pacific Coast League. It was actually a pretty good season. He gave up nearly a hit an inning, but in the PCL, that ain't too bad. 12.1 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 0.2 HR/9. Had he not been involved in this deal, he certainly would have been up with the Braves at some point. Hoyt's a former independent league guy so I don't know how that relates to his Rule 5 eligibility, but he might be a target for a team if eligible and not protected this offseason.

Let's look at the Braves prospects. Mike Foltynewicz was pretty productive with Gwinnett, but struggled badly in Atlanta. The problem with Folty is that while he has great velocity, he still lacks the secondary options that keeps batters off balance. He rarely used his change-up this year and instead added a slider. It, like all of his pitches, didn't do the job in the majors. Certainly, there is a lot of potential here, but where are the results?

Speaking of results, it was a tough season for Rio Ruiz in 2015. He entered the season with a good deal of buzz after slashing .293/.387/.436 with Lancaster last year, but Lancaster and the California League as a whole helps inflate some offensive numbers. The 21 year-old went to Mississippi this year and struggled for most of the year. He had a few good runs (.804 OPS in June, .835 OPS in August with 3 of his 5 HR) but it was an underwhelming year. In his defense, he was super young for AA so it was an aggressive assignment by the Braves. There is still a lot of hope, but now with Hector Olivera in Atlanta, Ruiz seems blocked for the time being.

Finally, there was Andrew Thurman. The throw-in for the deal, Thurman was great to start the year. Outside of a six-run game, he gave up two or fewer runs in his other five starts heading into the mid-May bus accident that sidelined him until July. Once he got back, he was not nearly as sharp with the exception of a seven one-hit innings in a 6-0 win on August 2. The Braves gave him a late season push to Mississippi where he had a forgetable five starts.

Long-Term Outlook
I liked this deal from the Braves' perspective for 2015 before and after the season so I especially like this deal long-term. Sure, none of the prospects the Braves received performed at a high level. Foltynewicz struggled badly in the bigs before a blood clot ended his season. He should be healthy well before pitchers and catchers report, but even after that, where does Folty ultimately fit? Is he a starter? A reliever? Maybe a closer? Or is he just a thrower who got so many accolades on his potential vs. what he had shown? Even with all these valid concerns involving Folty, I'll take my chances because he has a better chance of helping the Braves in 2016 than Gattis would have. Just like Folty had a better chance to help the 2015 Braves than Gattis.

Ruiz and Thurman could also turn the corner. Even if Ruiz ultimately is blocked (the Braves could consider a position switch for either Olivera or Ruiz in that case), he has the top-end talent to be a starter at the keystone for a decade. If the Braves decide to stick with Olivera at third and don't see Ruiz as a LF, there is always a market for young 3B with good pop. As for Thurman, he has the pitchability to make something happen, but in a system with a lot of pitching talent, Thurman kind of disappears. If he gets on a good run, the Braves might try to sell high in a trade package, which would be smart.

And yes, we can't not mention the catcher position in Atlanta. Christian Bethancourt had an ugly year, Jose Briceno fell on his face, and Lucas Herbert is a number of years away. Even with that in mind, Gattis was not an option. You think the Astros started Jason Castro 102 times at catcher because they loved his pitch framing so much that his .648 OPS was acceptable? Or were so attached to Hank Conger and his .311 OBP? No, they used those two, along with a brief cameo from Max Stassi, because they were their only options to catch. The Astros, like the Braves before them, liked Gattis's bat and that was about it. So, while Bethancourt stunk and A.J. Pierzynski was a nice surprise, but is likely to see his numbers fall back to his more recent norms, it was a better situation for the Braves than bringing Gattis back. After all, a catcher's gotta catch and Gattis can't.

Of course, Bethancourt didn't get that memo this season either...

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