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What’s Up With Evan

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Evan Gattis: Slow Start, or Something Else

MLB: Houston Astros at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Even before this play from Thursday’s game in Seattle, many Astros fans have wondered what’s the problem with designated hitter Evan Gattis. After a season in which most DH duties were filled by 39 year old Carlos Beltran, most Astros fans were anticipating improvement at that spot in the lineup.

Yet so far in this young season (yes, small sample) Evan Gattis is hitting .218, with no homers and a .609 OPS. He is striking out at a 30% clip. Far from improvement, this is a downgrade from even last year’s production at DH. And it is far below Gattis’ own career average of .778 OPS.

So what’s up with Evan? It’s very simple. He can’t DH. I’ve looked at all the meaningful splits I can think of, home-away, lefty-righty, April (he slugged last April) and the only significant pattern I’ve found is his DH versus position player hitting. The difference is dramatic and the pattern is consistent.

These are his production numbers as DH from 2015-2017:

2015 OPS .736 2016 OPS .723 2017 OPS .580

Compare those to his numbers as a position player. (2015, Left Field, 2016 and 17, catcher)

2015 OPS .933 2016 OPS .992 2017 OPS .878

In 2016 his WRC+ as a DH was 90. As a catcher it was 164. In 2017 he was at 58 WRC+ as a DH, but he was 133 while playing catcher. So far this year playing entirely at DH he is at 78.

From 2015-2017 as a DH, Gattis, in 876 AB’s, hit one home run every 23 AB’s. During that same time as a position player, with 412 AB’s, Evan hit a home run every 12 AB’s. Last year he had only one home run as a designated hitter in 110 AB’s. This year he has yet to hit even one in 60.

Although I don’t want to pretend to be a shrink, last night’s triple play debacle might give an insight into what’s up with Evan. If he’s not on the field, he’s not in the game, heart nor head.

So herein lies the dilemna. Does Evan Gattis’ defense as a catcher hurt the team more than his offense while playing catcher helps it? I leave this as an open question, since I do not understand defensive metrics, especially for catchers. But if it does, what is Evan Gattis’ future as an Astro, because he clearly appears to be a below replacement DH. And even if he is an above replacement player as a catcher, is he better than either of our two current backstops, who happen to be among our most productive hitters at this time?

Perhaps I’m spoiled by last season’s prodigious hitting output, where there were no real holes in the lineup, but DH needs to be fixed, because it is one of several relatively easy outs that the Astros are giving away to pitchers every night.