Jasen Vinlove-USA Today Sports

Gattis, McCann Will Try to Improve a Weak History of Houston Astros Catchers

A position that is not known for its offensive prowess in baseball may be taking a slight turn for higher offensive production during the 2017 Houston Astros season.

THEN

Brad Ausmus was never the type of hitter that made the fireworks erupt. The former Astros catcher, now Tigers’ manager, was a field general for the Astros. His work behind the plate was where his bread was buttered.

After 18 major league seasons, Ausmus ranks 15th all time in fielding percentage for catchers (.994), but he was almost the opposite when holding a bat. Ausmus spent 10 years with the Astros batting .246; of course his most memorable plate appearance has to be from the 9th inning of Game 4 in the 2005 NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, where he tied the game with a line scraping Home Run.

In 2007, catcher JR Towles made a quick name for himself, setting an Astros franchise record with 8 RBIs in one game and batting .375 in 40 At Bats. Unfortunately, Towles was unable to ride that success as he finished his career in 2011 with a batting average of only .187.

In 2009 Hall of Famer catcher Pudge Rodriguez joined the Astros. Nearing the end of his illustrious career, Rodriguez’s offensive power had slipped and he was just a name at that point. Rodriguez was only able to manage a .251 batting average through 327 At Bats.

While those last few years of declining numbers did not take away from his lifetime achievements, Rodriguez joined the Astros a few seasons too late for him to really make an impact offensively as a catcher.

In 2008 the Astros selected catcher Jason Castro as the tenth overall pick out of Stanford. Castro made his major league debut in 2010 and established himself as an All Star in 2013, batting .276/.350/.485. After showing signs of steady offensive improvement at the plate in his first three seasons with the Astros, Castro saw his offensive numbers drop drastically the next three seasons. Castro played six seasons for the Astros, batting .232 with 62 Home Runs and 212 RBIs.

NOW

Evan Gattis and Brian McCann are slated to be the Astros 2017 catching combination.

Gattis was acquired via trade from the Braves in 2015. In two seasons with the Astros, Gattis has batted .248/300/.483 with 59 Home Runs and 160 RBIs. He has served time as a Designated Hitter, Outfielder, and in the 2016 season Gattis caught 55 games for the Astros. In four major league seasons, Gattis has had his home run totals increase each year and is averaging 29.5 Home Runs a season the last two years. In 190 career games at catcher, Gattis has a very respectable .994 fielding percentage.

McCann was acquired from the New York Yankees in the offseason via trade. The 12-year veteran, Seven-time All Star, and four-time Silver Slugger comes to the Astros with a career .266 batting average, 18+ Home Runs in each of his last 11 seasons and 888 career RBIs. McCann also brings a career .992 fielding percentage from behind the plate. The emergence of 24-year old Gary Sanchez at catcher put McCann on the backburner for New York and made him expendable for the Yankees.

THE FUTURE…AT LEAST FOR 2017

Going off stats alone, 2017 could prove to provide the Astros with more pop out of the catching position than they have had in a long time. Gattis and McCann both bring decent enough catching statistics that any team would be proud to have, we are talking offense here.

McCann and Gattis should provide plenty of cheers at Minute Maid Park this year. It is unlikely that both will provide a batting average similar to Castro in 2013 (.276), but they are going to provide Home Runs and RBIs near the bottom of the lineup. When not catching, McCann and Gattis will most likely relieve Carlos Beltran as the DH in certain games.

Prediction for McCann

McCann is a veteran of the game; he is bringing leadership to an otherwise young clubhouse. His batting average has slowly declined over the last several years and his RBI totals took a major dip last season from 94 to 58. However he has consistently put up nearly 20 Home Runs per season and that should not drop too much given appropriate playing time as he is only 33 years old

Let’s not ignore that prior to joining the Yankees in 2014, McCann was a lifetime .277 hitter for the Braves. In three years with the Pinstripes he only managed a .235 average, a major drop off from what most expected from the Athens, GA native. It could just be that the bright lights and expectations of a certain fan base proved to be too much for McCann.

With so much success in his previous nine seasons, entering a lineup that is scattered with guys that can get on base, McCann could expect his RBI totals to go back up to around the 70-75 mark with a batting average around .260-.270.

Prediction for Gattis

Gattis is still very green at the catching position with room to improve. He is better suited as a DH and a catching backup. But a strange comparison to look at is how much better of a hitter Gattis is when catching versus when he is only in the game as a DH.

In 2016, with 251 at bats as a DH Gattis hit 13 home runs and 31 RBIs while putting up a line of .219/.298/.410. Compare that to the games he played as the catcher; in 190 at bats, Gattis managed 19 home runs with 41 RBIs batting .295/.345/.647.

It seems being involved in the entire game allows Gattis to focus on the bigger picture rather than just coming in to swing the bat every ninth hitter. This is an anomaly that AJ Hinch and the rest of the coaching staff should dig deeper into in order to best utilize Gattis.

A very bold prediction if you will, in his fifth major league season Gattis is going to break out. He will match Castro’s 2013 batting average of .276 while lowering his strike out totals and hit no less than 35 Home Runs and at least 100 RBIs.

At the very least, the 2017 Astros’ catching combination will be much more offensively exciting than it has been in recent years. “McCattis” at minimum should combine for around 45 home runs, 150 RBIs and approximately a .260-.265 batting average.


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