It seemed like things were coming to a slow fizzle for El Oso Blanco just a couple of weaks ago. The bear had a paltry 54 wRC+ through May 6th, and it appeared that the Astros would have to deal with an ineffective, far past his prime designated hitter for the second consecutive season.
Gattis was having none of it. Since May 7th, the gnome is batting .292/.339/.670 with 12 homers and a godly 171 wRC+. He leads all of baseball in runs batted in during that span, and trails only JD Martinez in homers and ISO.
In a blink of an eye, El Oso Blance went from unplayable to one of the hottest batters in baseball. His first and second half splits are so extreme that his game-by-game wRC+ trend looks more like a chart graphing the price movements of a volatile stock than anything tracking a baseball player’s performance. Did he change his approach?
Similar to what Issa Cook found with Alex Bregman, the bear‘s hot streak can by and large be credited to an improvement in discipline at the plate.
In the first half of the season, Gattis had a 30.5% strikeout rate. In the second half, that mark is down to 16%, and from there the contact and power numbers have taken off.
In the first half of the season, Gattis had a 28.1% hard contact rate. Since May 7th, he is getting hard contact four out of ten balls put in play.
It’s pretty simple stuff - if you increase your plate discipline and patience, the wild hacks will connect way more often with far more consistent results. Pitchers will be forced to give you hittable pitches, and they will be far more predictable in nature.
It was a struggle for Gattis to start the season - he was constantly whiffing on wild breaking balls that ended up well outside of the zone, and pitchers would relentlessly attack him on the outside lower corner, particularly with sliders. So Gattis adjusted - he stopped swinging at junk.
Evan Gattis has never been more patient at the plate than this season. Oso Blanco is at a career low in swinging-percentage (44.1%), and has beaten his career-low swing-rate on balls outside the zone by three percentage points (29.3%). Gattis is doing a good job of laying off pitches he usually struggles with, particularly the slider.
Here is a direct comparison of Gattis’ game-by-game wRC+ with his contact rate on sliders - which shows a pretty clear correlation.
Another striking difference is his increased patience on the first offering - Gattis is getting ahead in the count early in nearly half of his plate appearances, far and away a career best.
Since the first two months of the season, Gattis has made tremendous strides at the plate - he is waiting for his pitch, making contact more than ever before, and driving the ball at a ridiculous rate. El Oso Blanco has a career high contact rate (80%) and is tied for a carer best ISO (.250). He is also packing more power by pulling the ball at a new career high, though just slightly at 48.6%.
The rest of season outlook for the gnome looks bright - this is the first year he’ll have the benefit of fresh legs deep into the season, as McCann and Stassi have all but relieved him of his catching duties outside of emergency situations. Patience and discipline will continue to be key for Gattis going forward, and hopefully it rubs onto to others in the Astros organization suffering from golf swing-itis.