Evan Gattis has just over half as many games played so far this year as he played in 2013, and from the start of the season he’s been tearing the cover off of the ball.
Because of that, I figured it would be as good a time as ever to take a deeper look into his statistics and see if this sort of .297/.348/.589 hitting is something we should expect to see regularly.
At first, I had planned on breaking down all of his 2013 numbers and then going on to this year’s numbers, but it’s much harder to see the actual difference that way. So instead, we’ll compare his “general” offensive numbers from 2013-2014, his batted ball numbers, and finally, his plate discipline numbers.
If you’re not up for all of that, feel free to skip over the next section and read the summary at the bottom of the post.
*Please note that all statistics, including the ones above, are from Fangraphs and do not include games past June 16, 2014.
With 382 plate appearances in 105 games in 2013, Gattis finished with a .243/.291/.480 triple slash, 21 home runs, a 5.5 percent walk rate and a 21.2 percent strikeout rate. At the end of the season, he was good for 110 wRC+, or 10 percent better offensively than the average batter.
Most people were pretty happy with those numbers—and rightfully so. Having the organization’s best power prospect deliver the power in the big leagues is always fun, and he seemed to come up with every big hit the Braves needed throughout the year.
But who would have guessed how much better his 2014 numbers would be? Certainly not me. So far this season, in 201 plate appearances (53 games) Gattis is posting a ridiculous slash of .297/.348/.589 with 15 homeruns already and a lofty .292 ISO (last year’s was .237). His K/BB numbers are similar to last years as he is walking 6 percent of the time and striking out 21.4 percent of the time.
At the moment, Gattis is 58 percent better than the average hitter, with his 158 wRC+.
So, what gives? Why’s Gattis doing so much better this year? I’m certainly not the person to tell you why in terms of mechanics, but the next two sections of statistics definitely helps explain a lot.
Batter Ball Numbers
In 2013, 14.5 percent of the balls he hit in play were line drives, 40.9 percent were ground balls and 44.6 percent were fly balls. He posted a .92 GB/FB ratio and had an average infield fly ball percentage of 10.6 percent.
Compare that to 2014’s numbers: 14 percent line drives, 37.1 percent ground balls, 49 percent fly balls and just 8.6 percent infield flies. While the numbers don’t seem drastically different, they definitely show that Gattis is being more productive.
As a slow, power hitter, ground balls are one of the last things we want Gattis to be hitting (infield flies are obviously the worst—for any hitter). For him to utilize the strength and home run potential that he brings to the table, he needs to put the ball in the air. He’s doing just that this year in addition to cutting down on the infield fly balls, while his line drive rate is holding steady.
If you had to guess what would happen when a slugger cut down on his IFFBs and replaced some of the grounders with more fly balls, you’d probably expect him to see better power numbers and maybe a few ticks better average-wise (given that nothing too wild is going on in the BABIP department). That’s certainly happening with Gattis.
Plate Discipline Numbers
The last category we’ll look at are the plate discipline numbers, which to me, are the most interesting group of the bunch.
In 2013 Gattis swung at 45.2 percent of pitches outside of the zone, 72.9 percent of pitches inside the zone and made contact on pitches inside of the zone 82.8 percent of the time.
This year though, El Oso Blanco has improved in almost every area. He’s swinging at less offerings outside of the zone (39.2 percent), making more contact on pitches inside of the zone (82.8 percent) and swinging less (51.8 percent compared with 55.3 percent last year). Since Gattis gets thrown a ton of junk—just 45.3 percent of pitches seen are inside the zone—seeing him swing less and make less contact outside of the zone is a good thing.
Just from looking at the numbers, it seems like Gattis is learning to wait on his pitch and being much less aggressive at stuff outside of the zone. I would think that this means he’s seeing the ball better and figuring out the major league strike zone and/or major league pitchers.
To close out this stat-heavy piece, it looks like Gattis is simply improving as a major league hitter. I know, a ton of statistical analysis just to come up with the obvious answer right? Well… yeah, but isn’t this fun?
Gattis has always had quick hands and a huge amount of strength to rely on, so I don’t think it should be too surprising that he’s been able to succeed at this level. Just look at this tidbit from Baseball America’s scouting report a few years ago:
He generates impressive bat speed with lightning-quick wrists and tremendous strength, producing power from foul pole to foul pole.
Well, it appears that he’s putting those quick hands to work in the form of better contact on pitches in the zone, while at the same time, swinging at stuff outside of the zone less.
To highlight Gattis’s improved discipline at the plate, here are a few words from the always awesome Ben Duronio:
Seeing the general improvements across the board in his first full year as the starter is promising for both the expectations for Gattis this year and in the long term. His average, walk rate, and ISO are all up, and while he will likely always hit for a low BABIP, if his average hovers around the .250 mark he provides a lot more value than I expected before the year. I play in only OBP leagues, and while he is not as attractive in such leagues as those that only look at average, he has seemed significantly more patient since the midway point in April. He got the year off without walking in any of his first 10 games, but has since walked 10 times in his past 32. Those are arbitrary endpoints, but as a follower of the team his approach has been cleaner since the early goings in the season.
It’s obviously awesome to see this kind of production from Evan Gattis (especially when you add in the fact that his defense has come along as well), but he’ll still have to continue making adjustments as the league starts to figure him out.
And, considering how dismal the Atlanta Braves offense has been as a whole, the team should hope NL pitchers don’t figure him out any time soon.