Since putting on the pinstripes, Brian McCann hasn’t impressed many Yankees fans with his bat skills. So far, McCann has produced a triple slash of .152/.176/.152 in 34 plate appearances which are not exactly the numbers the Yankees were looking for from McCann when they gave him 5 years $85 million this offseason. I realize it’s early in the season and that 34 plate appearances is a small sample size, but I still wanted to explore why McCann is struggling early on and if this trend will continue.
I took a look at McCann’s spray charts thus far and matched his hits and outs with the type of hit to get a feel for how many hits he should have.
It’s easy to see from the spray charts that McCann has lost a lot of his should be hits to the shift. I counted about five hits that McCann lost to the shift. Those five hits would raise McCann’s average to .303 (10/33). If you look at his career .288 BABIP compared to his 2014 BABIP of .172, it’s obvious that McCann is getting unlucky at the plate. That number should rise, but what we have to keep in mind is that’s his BABIP against all types of defenses. Teams are specifically using major shift alignments against McCann this year so in this case we should look at McCann’s BABIP against the shift.
I looked at McCann’s 2013 BABIP against the shift thanks to the data provided by Jeff Zimmerman of The Hard Ball Times. According to his data, McCann hit into the 12th most shifts of any player in 2013 (123), his BABIP with the shift on is .179, which is a scary number for Yankees fans since that’s only a .07 increase from his BABIP this season and McCann’s BABIP is also the worst on the list with at least 100 balls in play with the shift. League average BABIP with the shift on is .289.
While researching this topic I also stumbled across an article written by a Fangraphs community member, scotman144 in which he points out the major difference between shifts usage in the AL East against the NL East. For instance, the Orioles shifted 470 times last season which was the most in the MLB while the NL East as a whole shifted 473 times. He points out that 108 of those shifts were from the Braves. Still, the point remains that the AL East is going to be a different monster for McCann when it comes to hitting against the shift. The Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox come in as the number two and six teams in shift usage for 2013 respectively with 466 and 364 shifts.
Of course, BABIP can waver in such a small sample size, but the idea of this becoming a regular thing is scary. If his BABIP does not see see an increase, McCann may want to change his approach at the plate. Instead of pulling the ball, perhaps he can try going the other way more. Hopefully McCann could make teams shift less by keeping them honest for a bit but that also may cause another problem: hurting his ability to hit home runs.
It may be too early to worry about this, but with the data showing McCann struggling against the shift in the past combined with a division full of teams that love to shift, it’s definitely something to look into.