2016 Statistics: .242/.335/.413, 103 wRC+, 1.3 fWAR
2017 Roster Status: Guaranteed $34 million through 2018, $15 million vesting option in 2019
Evaluating the Brian McCann era for the Yankees proves to be a difficult task. On the one hand, he’s frequently maligned by Yankees fans for his low batting average and for not meeting their expectations as an impact bat. On the other hand, McCann consistently ranks as one of the best power-hitting catchers in baseball. His real talent likely falls somewhere in the middle, in the unsexy realm of the “solid.” His 2016 effort is no exception, as he turned in another solid campaign.
Like many of his teammates, 2016 is a tale of two seasons for McCann. Despite battling injuries, namely a bruised toe and hyperextended elbow, he put up a strong first half. He batted .248/.347/.462 with 14 home runs prior to the All-Star break. That’s good for a 118 wRC+. He slowed down in the second half, but unlike last year, he didn’t let the wheels fall off completely. He managed a meager .236/.321/.351 with just six home runs, worth 84 wRC+.
Following the arrival of Gary Sanchez, the trade of Carlos Beltran, and the release of Alex Rodriguez, McCann became the team’s primary designated hitter. He also spent a significant amount of time on the bench. In the second half he managed just 218 plate appearances. That’s down from the 274 plate appearances he had in the first half, when he missed time with injuries.
Compared to his career norms, McCann was below average in a number of the offensive categories. His power output was the most drastic, with a .170 ISO, which was 23 points below average, and the lowest in his Yankees career. His .413 slugging percentage is also well below his .459 average. McCann managed his ninth-consecutive 20 home run campaign, but his raw power was notably down.
More alarming, however, was his dramatic increase in strikeouts. Known for his plate discipline, he struck out 20.1% of the time, a career high. He has a quality eye and consistently works counts. It’s unusual for so many of his plate appearances to end in strikeouts. What can explain this uptick? A look at his swing pitch types proves useful.
Compared to the 2015 season:
At first glance, those plots look similar. McCann did strike out 18.1% of the time in 2015, after all. What’s revealing, however, is the concentration of swings below the strike zone. These aren’t a few outliers. McCann consistently swung at more pitches down in the zone than he did last year. It’s tough to say why he did that, but it’s straightforward enough to gather that it caused his strikeout rate to jump.
In terms of defense, McCann ranks around the middle of the pack according to Baseball Prospectus. The eye test suggests that he’s still a capable defender behind the plate, but wear-and-tear and decline is expected at his age. McCann isn’t the elite pitch framer he was when he came to the Yankees, but he’s still done a solid, capable job.
For a catcher, McCann’s 2016 numbers are right around average. As a designated hitter, which McCann primarily was, they’re not good at all. Moving forward, the Yankees are going to need more production from the DH spot. The big question, however, is will he fill that role in 2017? McCann was the focus of several trade rumors this summer, most notably with the Atlanta Braves. The emergence of Sanchez will only ramp up the speculation this offseason.
Overall, 2016 was a mixed bag for McCann. He provided quality defense with a solid bat, but one that left something to be desired. That’s been the theme of his career in pinstripes. He does enough as a complimentary player, but he always leaves you feeling wanting more.