Is Evan Gattis Worth the Risk in Fantasy Baseball?

Evan Gattis had a monster first half of 2014 before a back injury derailed his season. With a new team and a higher volume of plate appearances, can he justify the risk he carries?

Evan Gattis was made for the Houston Astros. He loves home runs, he embraces the strikeout, and he can physically occupy a space defensively without doing much else. While this formula might not be optimal for real baseball, it should get you all hot and bothered for the fake kind.

Plenty of people predicted that Gattis would have a breakout fantasy season last year. If fantasy wasn't dependent on volume, he would have proven them right with his .493 slugging percentage and 24 home runs in 401 plate appearances. However, that's not how this puppy works, and Gattis was stuck in fantasy purgatory.

Now, Gattis has had an off-season to rest up the back injury that ailed him the second half of last season and a new team to boot. Is this the year where it all comes together? If so, Gattis could provide crazy value to a position starved for points.

What Is Gattis's Ceiling?

The interesting thing about Gattis is that we have probably already seen his ceiling; we just haven't seen it for a full season yet.

In the first half of last year, Gattis hit for a .290/.342/.558 slash with a .387 wOBA and 16 home runs in just 243 plate appearances. Asking a guy like Gattis to exceed those numbers would be difficult to say the least.

Gattis's back injury helped to stop us from seeing if he was a small sample size superhero or a legit offensive asset. But this does seem to be a good place from which to start when trying to set an upper limit to Gattis's expectations.

If we were to expand Gattis's first-half numbers over 575 plate appearances (which is what Steamer projects and is a realistic number for a ceiling in this case), Gattis would have been on pace to hit 38 home runs. Yowza.

That said, there's a reason this is the ceiling. It means this is the absolute best situation possible, and that rarely occurs in a sport that spans 162 games. So, instead, let's shift our focus to what's realistic for Gattis as opposed to what's possible.

What the Projections Say

The various projection systems give a very Mark-Trumbo-esque assessment of Gattis. He's going to mash some taters, but when the ball doesn't leave the park, the outcome will be sub-Gucci.

Let's first go back to Steamer. The positive is that Steamer sees Gattis belting 28 home runs, which would be a silly-good number for a catcher (as Gattis will start with exclusively catcher eligibility on most sites). This, though, is coupled with a .243/.295/.459 slash and a .328 wOBA, all a significant step back from his 2014 numbers.

A good chunk of this regression can be chalked up to Gattis's batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Because of his high fly-ball rate, Gatts's BABIP should hover in the .260's or .270's. It was at .298 last year. Some scale-back in that department is to be expected.

Dan Szymborski's ZiPS Projections for Gattis aren't a whole lot prettier. They have Gattis down for a .247/.299/.455 slash and a .326 wOBA, though it should be noted that those numbers were calculated prior to Gattis's trade to Houston. This isn't bad for fantasy as that .455 slugging percentage will translate into a bunch of total bases, but it's still nowhere near our previously established ceiling.

These projections paint a guy eligible at catcher who is going to be very much boom or bust. Boom or bust can be good, though, in fantasy given the right situation. But if Gattis can't get a high volume of plate appearances, though, this whole discussion is moot.

Can Gattis Get Enough Volume?

Gattis could have a .800 slugging percentage this year, but it wouldn't matter if he did it over five plate appearances. Dude needs to be on the field for this discussion to even matter. But with the move to Houston, this is less of a concern.

With the Astros, Gattis is in an interesting position. He could go one of about a thousand ways with which position he will play. That, however, is what can give you a bit more confidence in selecting Gattis.

Prior to the trade, the Braves had planned on moving Gattis into left field. In 2013, he started 38 games at catcher, 47 in left field and four at first base. He did not play the outfield last year, though, and Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow suggested Gattis was more likely to play first base and designated hitter until they had a more complete idea of him in the outfield. Basically, ain't nobody know what this dude is.

While we don't know what position Gattis will play, we do know one thing: he's going to hit, and he's going to hit a lot. The Astros didn't trade three prospects to put this guy on the bench. They want him hitting among the youngsters and providing some extra pop to a line-up that has positive run potential.

Maybe that means Gattis plays first one day while Jon Singleton gets a break. Maybe he gives Chris Carter a breather at designated hitter. Or, maybe he plays well enough in left to win over the Astros execs who have a track record of not really giving a flying poo about defense. Either way, he's going to hit, and if you use a fantasy pick on him, you can expect enough volume to justify the selection.

Why Gattis Is Worth the Risk

I'm not going to lie to you -- Gattis is a risky selection. He has never exceeded 417 total plate appearances in a professional season. If your league deducts for strikeouts, the 2014 version of Gattis would hurt, though he didn't have a high strikeout track record in the minors. And the projections see a regression for Gattis with regards to his rate stats. Even with all of those factors, I still think he's worth the gamble, dependent on where he's available.

I wrote a piece earlier this off-season about using positional scarcity to develop draft strategies. Gattis fits into the research in multiple key ways that boost his value.

First, as you would have guessed, there aren't a whole lot of points to be had at catcher. This is obvious as the guys are generally lower volume with days off. Therefore, a catcher who can blast some big ones has huge fantasy potential.

Second, the most valuable catchers are catchers that are not actually catchers. Or, at the very least, they are also eligible at other positions. Pretend that all made sense.

The top three scorers at catcher last year, by a wide margin, were Jonathan Lucroy, Buster Posey, and Carlos Santana. They all were eligible at a position other than catcher as they would pop out from behind the plate and post up at other positions. Santana is the exception as he didn't catch at all but still had catcher eligibility, similar to Gattis this year. Gattis gets the bump from being a catcher without actually having to go through the grinds of catching. It's beautiful.

Third, if Gattis were to play enough outfield to gain eligibility there, he would then be eligible at two positions with a high degree of scarcity. Outside of catcher and shortstop, outfield was the position that was most starved for quality options after the top tier. If you can get a guy with the potential of Gattis in the middle rounds that might be eligible at both catcher and outfield, then that's a risk worth taking. If only we can get him eligibility at shortstop, as well. Something tells me that one is less likely.

When you're looking at a middle-round pick, risk can be a good thing. While there's a chance Gattis regresses and doesn't see every-day volume, there's also a chance he explodes and hits 35 home runs. There aren't a lot of guys with an average draft position larger than 100 that can say that. And there especially aren't many at catcher that can do so.

Gattis is definitely a fit for the Astros, and he's probably a good fit for your fantasy team as well. Once he becomes eligible at other positions, that value will just continue to increase. With an exciting lineup around him and a full complement of plate appearances, Gattis could finally sustain the awaited breakout he teased at achieving last year.