COMMENTARY | It has been widely publicized that Evan Gattis had to take a job as a janitor before he eventually clawed his way on to a Major League roster. His banal background seems only fitting now that he has assumed the role of the Atlanta Braves' official mess cleaner-upper.
With two outs in the ninth inning, and the Braves trailing the Minnesota Twins 4-3, Gattis stepped up to the plate with only one thing on this mind: tie the game with one swing of the bat. On a ball near his ankles -- at which the 26-year-old rookie had no business swinging -- Gattis turned and crushed a low flying missile into the left field bleachers…and his legend continues. The Braves came all the way back to win 5-4 on a tenth-inning walk-off single by Freddie Freeman on Tuesday.
For Gattis, this latest long ball marked the third pinch-hit home run he has belted this season, and the second in the last four games. Yet, since Brian McCann returned from the disabled list to reclaim his starting spot, Gattis has seen his role diminish. He has only made six starts in 15 games, but has gone 3-for-5 with two home runs and four RBIs when inserted off the bench.
Although I don't wear glasses thick enough to get overly excited about most of the advanced baseball statistics, Gattis' WAR (Wins Above Replacement) may be something worth considering. Thanks to his continued late-inning heroics, Gattis' 1.2 WAR is tied with Yadier Molina for fourth among National League catchers -- Brian McCann's WAR is only 0.6. As a pinch hitter, Gattis has very literally allowed the Braves to put three extra Ws in the win column. Does manager Fredi Gonzalez now need to find him an everyday position so his potential productivity is not wasted on the bench?
Even as a part-time player, Gattis still ranks second on the team in home runs (9) and total bases (67), and he currently sits third in RBIs (23). It is worth noting that Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla are all still hitting under .180 while Gattis remains one of the most productive hitters on the team -- even though he spends as much time spitting sunflower seeds as he does facing major-league pitching. Certainly Gattis has earned more playing time, but where will Gonzalez find it for him?
Gattis was seeing regular swings in the outfield before Jason Heyward returned from the DL, but since the Braves have made it back to full strength in the field, Gattis has found it difficult to crack his way into the lineup. The main problem facing Gattis is that Gerald Laird is still there to play catcher on McCann's off days. However, Atlanta also has Jordan Schafer and Reed Johnson in line for outfield spot starts. It seems there are still far too many Ford Pintos blocking the Mustang from finding a parking spot on this team.
The numbers dictate that Gattis should be playing left field, with Justin Upton in right, and Jason Heyward moving to center to force B.J. Upton to the bench. Yet, the eldest Upton has 13 million reasons why that probably will not happen.
Winning solves everything, and right now the Braves are riding high with a five-game winning streak. That being said, if the dog-days of summer role around with Upton still refusing to put lumber to rawhide on a consistent basis, Gonzalez may have no choice but to promote Gattis to that of a full-time employee.
Still, a valid concern can be raised that Gattis remains more valuable as a pinch hitter late in games. Some players just have that fearless gene which allows them to ignore the stress of the late-inning spotlight and perform when it matters most, and Gattis seems to fit that bill perfectly. For qualified players with a minimum of five pinch-hit appearances, Gattis is No. 1 on the Braves with a .667 average --- the next closest being Ramiro Pena's .286 mark.
Maybe it's just a case of Gattis being able to put the proper perspective on the situation. When a person has gone through the things in life which Gattis has already had to face, what kind of extra pressure can a ninth-inning at-bat really offer? If the Braves hope to make magic with a World Series run this season, Gattis may find himself as the player called on to stare down closers when much bigger games are on the line.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter based in "Braves Country." He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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