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Is Brian McCann pressing? Should we be concerned?

Brian McCann is swinging at pitches more often than his career rates dictate. Is he trying too hard to make a good first impression? Is there any reason to be concerned?

Al Bello

The pressure of living up to a new contract is something that is difficult, if not impossible, to measure. As outsiders, we can imagine and understand the idea of a player pressing to perform under circumstances such as this. Yet, unless a player admits to feeling the pressure, we can only make post-hoc determinations from early results. A rough stretch midseason can go unnoticed, but a slow start to a year is easy to see because it is all the stats we have. It's not a particularly fair to the player to make judgments in this way, but there are some stark changes in Brian McCann's plate discipline that might make one wonder if he's trying too hard to impress.

The Yankees' newly minted catcher is off to a decent start, hitting to the tune of an 88 wRC+, providing solid defense (particularly framing), and acclimating himself well to the pitching staff. The offense is lagging a bit behind the rest of his game, off from his career 117 wRC+. What immediately caught my eye was McCann's significant dips in walk and strikeout rates. In 78 trips to the plate, he's taken first on balls 5.1% of the time vs. 9.4% lifetime. Not good. However, his strikeout rate sits at 10.3% compared to 14.4% for his career. That certainly looks like a guy who's being a bit more impatient at the plate, ending at-bats sooner than prior seasons.

Still, McCann is seeing 3.90 pitches per plate appearances, above league average and in-line with his career norms. That makes the notion of him finishing at-bats earlier a falsehood, but doesn't eliminate the idea of him being more aggressive than usual.

Perhaps supporting the hypothesis of McCann pressing early on are some of his plate discipline PITCHf/x stats. McCann is swinging at 50.3% of pitches seen, while also hacking at 33.6% of offerings outside the strike zone. Those are up from career marks of 45.1% and 29.6%, respectively. To be fair, McCann is also seeing first-pitch strikes 26.9% of the time, well up from roughly 18% in his final two seasons in Atlanta. Being behind in the count more often has put him on the defensive, but it doesn't necessarily explain why he is chasing more bad pitches than before. McCann has been known to be a patient hitter, so seeing a bump in swings at balls is unexpected.

Does this mean McCann is pressing? Probably not. A .257/.295/.405 line isn't quite what we were hoping for, at least for OBP in particular, but it is just 78 plate appearances. Like I mentioned earlier, a stretch like this in June would probably go unnoticed. Maybe his swing rates show that he's trying to do too much, but we aren't in McCann's head. For what it's worth, ZiPS isn't particularly concerned, forecasting a 9.8% BB% and a .258/.334/.446 triple-slash the rest of the season. I'm not worried at this stage, but I think it's worth following his swing rates going forward, with a particular focus on pitches chased.