There is no sugar-coating the fact that Brian McCann has been one of the most disappointing position players on the Yankees during the first half of the season.
A seven-time All-Star who entered this season with a career OPS of .823 and averaged 20 homers per season with the Braves, McCann’s bat has gone cold since coming to the Bronx.
However, all hope is not lost. Since the calendar turned to July, he has swung the bat much better and perhaps appears to be breaking out of his slump.
On June 30, following a 12-inning loss to the Rays in which McCann went 1-for-5 and struck out with a man on base to end the 10th inning, McCann admitted that he was “horrible”.
His OPS had dropped to .642, the lowest among qualified catchers at that time. He sat out the next game (entering as a pinch hitter in the ninth), but looked rejuvenated in his return to the lineup on July 2, going 2-for-4 with a homer.
After the game, Kevin Long revealed to the beat reporters that McCann had recently eliminated a toe-tap in his stance in order to help streamline his swing and his timing at the plate. It’s tough to exactly pinpoint when McCann stopped using the toe-tap, but we do know that since July 2, he’s been on an offensive tear.
McCann is hitting .366/.386/.488 with a homer and two doubles in his last 10 games, a huge improvement over his .220/.280/.360 line in his first 75 games this season.
I am not a swing mechanics expert, so I’ll leave that part for others to analyze. But I can dig into the numbers to see what improvements McCann has made during his recent hot stretch.
See the ball, hit the ball…hard
One key positive trend from his last 10 games is that he his making a lot more solid contact. His line drive rate is at 35 percent, compared to 24 percent before July 2, and he has increased his rate of hard-hit balls from 15 percent to 19 percent of at-bats.
Although only three of his 15 hits since July 2 have been for extra bases, he is clearly hitting the ball harder and getting his bat through the swing plane in a quicker, more fluid motion.
Also, as you can see in the heat maps below, he’s doing a lot of damage on pitches down in the zone over his last 10 games.
Since July 2, he is 8-for-19 (.421) with two doubles on pitches thrown mid-thigh or lower, and has only whiffed five times in 34 swings. Prior to his recent hot streak, McCann hit a meager .175 against pitches in that same location and missed on nearly a quarter of those swings.
No shift for you!
McCann is still being shifted roughly the same amount in July as he was in the first three months, but a subtle change in his approach has produced big dividends so far.
The key here has been his ability to hit over and through the shift. During the first three months of the season McCann was pounding the ball into the ground when he pulled it, and hitting directly into the shifted defensive alignment for an easy out.
Through July 1, more than half of the balls he hit to the right side were on the ground, and he made outs on almost 80 percent of the batted balls put into play to his pull side.
Over his last 10 games, it’s been a completely different story. He has cut his groundball rate in half when putting the ball in play to the right side, and is pulling the ball with more authority and loft. Since July 2 McCann is 9-for-15 when hitting to the right side of the field, including one home run.
He executed this new approach to perfection on July 7 against the Indians when he hit line drives to the right fielder in each of his first three at-bats, resulting in two singles and a double.
If you prefer a more visual look at the difference between the two time periods, below are the spray charts of his batted balls to the right side this season. In the chart on the left (through July 1), you can see that the ratio of dark blue dots (outs) to green/light blue/red dots (hits) is much higher than in the chart on the right (since July 2).
The one part of McCann’s game that seemingly has not improved over the last 10 games is his plate discipline. He has just two walks against eight strikeouts since July 2. However, his overall approach appears unchanged. His contact rate over the last 10 games is the same as his first 75 games, and he is not chasing more pitches out of the zone during the last two weeks compared to the rest of the season.
Of course all of these numbers from July are a tiny sample size, so we cannot tell for sure that McCann has made sustainable progress in breaking out of his season-long slump over the last 10 games.
But we can dream, right?