Where does Brian McCann rank among MLB catchers?

Kevin C. Cox

Brian McCann is now the second highest paid catcher in baseball on a per-year basis. Have his numbers earned him that placement?

Brian McCann's brand new five-year, $85 million Yankee contract makes the 30-year-old former Brave the best compensated free agent catcher of all-time. His yearly largess falls in ahead of Yadier Molina's $15 million and a notch behind Buster Posey's $18.55 million. Joe Mauer officially no longer resides behind the plate, but he did when he signed his eight-year deal with the Twins, which pays him $23 million per season.

McCann has joined the fiscal elite of big league backstops, but does he deserve it? He hasn't won an MVP like Mauer and Posey or multiple World Series rings like Posey and Molina. Here's a look at where his on-field prowess ranked in 2013 among the top catchers in baseball in fWAR, homers, OPS and wRC+.

2013 top 15 catchers by fWAR:

Player G fWAR HR OPS wRC+
Brian McCann 102 2.7 20 .796 122
Yadier Molina 136 5.6 12 .836 134
Joe Mauer 113 5.2 11 .880 144
Buster Posey 148 4.8 15 .821 133
Jason Castro 120 4.3 18 .835 130
Russell Martin 127 4.1 15 .703 101
Salvador Perez 138 3.7 13 .757 105
Jonathan Lucroy 147 3.6 18 .795 118
Carlos Santana 154 3.6 20 .832 135
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 121 3.6 14 .804 117
Wellington Castillo 113 3.2 8 .746 106
Matt Wieters 148 2.4 22 .704 86
A.J. Ellis 115 2.2 10 .682 95
Wilin Rosario 121 2.2 21 .801 107
Nick Hundley 114 1.9 13 .679 89

McCann's numbers don't exactly stand out. While he was second out of all MLB catchers in home runs in only 102 games played, he was eighth in OPS, sixth in wRC+ and eighth in wOBA at .347. He threw out 24.2 percent of potential base-stealers which was middle of the pack, though he's generally regarded as a good defender. His three passed balls were the fewest of catchers with more than 90 games behind the plate. Projecting that total out over a full season would keep him in the top ten. It's worth noting that Mauer will be playing first base in 2014 and that others on this list, namely Carlos Santana and Wilin Rosario will probably transition to new positions within the next couple of years as well.

McCann has a longer track record of success than most of the competition above. Here's how he compares with other catchers over the past five years.

2009-2013 top 10 catchers by fWAR:

Player G fWAR HR OPS wRC+
Brian McCann 632 17.5 106 .797 115
Joe Mauer 617 24.2 61 .889 142
Yadier Molina 689 22.6 60 .791 118
Buster Posey 456 17.8 61 .864 140
Mike Napoli 614 16.5 123 .861 131
Carlos Ruiz 566 16.1 44 .805 117
Matt Wieters 657 14.4 87 .739 96
Miguel Montero 610 13.5 69 .787 109
Russell Martin 625 12.3 66 .702 95
Carlos Santana 498 11.5 71 .814 128

We find that 2013, other than the time he missed due to injury, was a pretty typical season for McCann when weighed against what he's done over the last half-decade. He climbs the list in some categories because consistency is difficult too come by in a catcher. Since 2009, McCann's second in homers with 106 - second to Mike Napoli, who no longer catches. He's fourth in fWAR, sixth in OPS and seventh in wRC+. Defensive metrics for catchers can be sketchy but for what it's worth, his Fangraphs defensive rating is third. He's also caught the sixth most innings of any catcher in that span.

McCann doesn't blow you away in any particular aspect of the game, but his well-roundedness and dependability are rare assets among today's catchers. There aren't a lot of quality defenders who also hit - they're a valuable commodity, especially with a manager like Joe Girardi, who prefers glove-first backstops. Of the players who'll play primarily behind the plate in 2014, only Molina and Posey are easy bets to be better, though Jason Castro and Salvador Perez have bullets beside their names.

The Yankees set out to buy themselves one of the top catchers in baseball, and in that they succeeded. McCann's salary might slot in slightly higher than his on-field worth, but $17 million per year doesn't buy what it once did. If Molina and Posey were free agents today they'd be looking at AAV's in the twenties. The cost of good, but not great, has gone sky high. Brian McCann is to catching, roughly what Hunter Pence is to the outfield, or what C.J. Wilson is to pitching. In that respect, the price the Yankees paid was more than fair.

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