clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

This is the Brian McCann we were waiting for

New, comments

After a disappointing debut season in pinstripes, McCann is finally becoming the elite offensive and defensive catcher we all expected him to be.

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

After a solid but unremarkable debut season, some Yankee fans were left wondering if perhaps the team had made a mistake signing catcher Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million deal in November of 2013.  Sure, his glove and pitch framing skills were still some of the best in the game, but the Yankees didn't pay such a high price for just a good defender who knew how to manage a pitching staff.  After letting Russell Martin go in 2012 in an effort to save money (as part of the now infamous "Plan 189"), the Yankees tried to fill the void with a combination of Chris Stewart, the oft-injured (and once suspended) Francisco Cervelli, and Austin Romine.  Let's just say that plan failed and never mention it again.

To make it even worse, Russell Martin went from being a 2.0 fWAR player in his final season in the Bronx (stellar defensively with a pretty decent - for a catcher - 95 wRC+) to a four win player in his first season in Pittsburgh.  As a Pirate, Martin hit .226/.327/.377 in 2013, and then blasted those numbers out of the water when he hit .290/.402/.430 in 2014.  Oh, and yeah, he's got a 135 wRC+ so far in 2015 and has already accumulated 2.4 fWAR.

Of course, after the disastrous catching situation in 2013, the Yankees brass responded by going out and getting McCann.  While he was leagues better than Chris Stewart, he still had a rough season by McCann's own standards. He hit a pedestrian .232/.286/.406 with a 92 wRC+ in 2014, and while his power eventually came around a bit - he hit 12 homers from August on - it was overall a disappointing season for the new Yankee catcher.

In 2015, though, like many Yankee bounce back candidates, McCann is showing the offensive and defensive skills that made him so attractive to the Yankees back in 2013.  Through 48 games, McCann is slashing .266/.330/.485 with a 124 wRC+ and nine home runs.  He's first on the team among position players with 1.6 fWAR, tied for third in homers and fourth in isolated power.  Among qualified major league catchers, he's second in ISO and tied for second in homers.  While he may not be quite as good so far as Russell Martin or the Oakland A's Stephen Vogt, the fact remains that McCann is reestablishing himself as one of the premier catchers in the majors.  Simply put, the McCann of 2015 is the man the Yankees envisioned when they locked him up for five years before last season.

Taking a deeper dive into McCann's numbers, he's swinging slightly less often overall, and he's also swinging at slightly fewer pitches in the strike zone, suggesting a slightly more selective approach at the plate than he had last season.  As he's been a bit more selective, McCann's hit more grounders, is hitting less fly balls (especially less infield fly balls) and, perhaps most importantly, is pulling the ball more (50% of the time this year versus just 44.1% of the time last season).  While nothing definitive can be gleaned from this yet, it does seem like perhaps McCann is just embracing that people are shifting on him, and he's trying to find a pitch to pull, resulting in more productive and powerful at-bats.  It'll be interesting to keep an eye on these numbers as the season goes on, because McCann's plan for beating the shift waffled back and forth last year between just trying to pull the ball with power versus trying to go the other way and hit around it (therefore robbing him of much of his power).

One final thing to note about McCann's resurgence: he's finally taking advantage of Yankee Stadium as many of us hoped he would last year.  At home in 2015, McCann is hitting .343/.427/.729 with a ridiculous 214 wRC+.  Now, he's not producing well on the road (hitting just .212/.257/.313), and that has to improve, but if he keeps taking advantage of Yankee Stadium's architecture, he doesn't have to improve a whole lot to continue being a major offensive force on this club.

McCann will surely endure some slumps over the course of the season, but he looks much more comfortable and productive so far in 2015 than he ever did (except perhaps in the last month or so) during the 2014 season.  He's getting clutch hits, pulling home runs out to the short porch in right, and continuing to be a steadying presence behind the plate, which is especially valuable considering how much shuffling of the rotation the Yankees have already had to deal with.  While he might not quite be an All-Star again, McCann is definitely bringing the all-around value the Yankees had in mind when they signed him, and it's helped lead this team back to the top of the AL East.