The Brian McCann signing was one of the biggest bargains of the offseason. He signed relatively early, which made it hard to tell where the free agent market was going, but after monster signings by Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, and Masahiro Tanaka, McCann’s deal pales in comparison. On a 5 year $85 million contract, the catcher offers the Yankees a huge amount of value defensively, offensively, and as a leader.
With Joe Mauer moving to first base and Carlos Santana to third base, there’s an easy argument to make that McCann will be the best catcher in the American League. Yan Gomes and Salvador Perez could give him some good competition, and even Jason Castro could continue his breakout performance, but McCann has proven his value for a much longer period of time. He has some of the best power and best eyes among catchers in the game, and his pitch framing is regarded as one of the best in the league.
Over the last couple of years, the Braves have showcased a number of very young pitchers, and McCann grew to be a leader of that group. He doesn’t deserve all the credit, but there’s no doubt that his pitch framing and desire to strategize played a part in this groups success. The catcher already got a head start with the Yankees when the front office sent him an iPad with video of their pitchers, as well as information on AL East hitters. After the last few years, the Yankees could use stability behind the plate, and he has proven that he can draw the full potential out of his pitchers.
McCann’s defense and leadership should be extremely helpful towards the pitching staff, but his bat is also an important part of his game. His left-handed swing combined for 20 home runs and a .256/.336/.461 slash in 2013. This was a typical season for the catcher, who hasn’t hit less than 20 home runs since 2007, yet Statcorner ranks Turner Field as a relatively neutral park for left-handed home runs. (101 in 2013, 100 in 2012, 103 in 2011) Outside of Citizens Bank Park, the other NL East ballparks have been extremely unfriendly to left-handed hitters. Outside of Tropicana, Camden Yards and the Rogers Center are very friendly towards left-handed power, and while Fenway is not great for left-handed home runs, it does offer a ton of extra base hits in doubles and triples. The move from the NL East to AL East should benefit McCann’s power tremendously, perhaps boosting him to a possible 30 home run season as some systems project.
There’s even more reason to like McCann’s bat in 2014. In 2013, the catcher hit his highest line drive percentage since his rookie season. Despite this, McCann batted just .656 on those hits even though he’s hit .736 on line drives over his career. On grounders he hit just .175, though he owns a career .210 average on those hits. Although all hits aren’t created equally, regression like this is extremely uncommon for such a successful 29 year old. McCann still showed that he has tremendous strength with his 20 home runs, so it looks like more of his hits should fall in 2014, and his .256 batting average should rebound.
McCann is one player I’m optimistic about, as he represents a major upgrade over Chris Stewart. Steamer projects the catcher to hit 24 home runs with a .255/.334/.452 slash, Oliver at 34 home runs (!) with a .251/.333/.484 slash, and ZiPS at 22 home runs with a .258/.340/.451 slash. With his batting average increasing for the reasons mentioned above, and slugging increasing in the hitter-friendly environment, I’ll project McCann at at least 25 home runs and a .270/.350/.470 slash. This is one of my most optimistic projections in this series, but if he can stay on the field, McCann has found the perfect opportunity to pad his stats.