Brian McCann's debut season in Yankeeland wasn't very good. That's not a story that needs to be told and beaten into the ground anymore. We know the hows, we know the whys, and we know it was disappointing. What makes it an important story heading into this season is what it does or doesn't mean about McCann's future. He's not as old or as broken down as A-Rod, Teix, or Beltran, but as a soon-to-be-31-year-old catcher who's been an everyday catcher for 9 seasons running he's also not the same physically as your average 31-year-old MLB player. Last season could have been the beginning of the end for McCann as a well above-average hitting catcher and it could have been first-year adjustment issues. That's the worry that Cash and Joe will have as Mac gets ready for Year 2.
If you're a subscriber to the theory that McCann's decrease in production was more approach/bad BIP luck/adjustment jitters-related, and that the player we saw in the final 2 months was more representative of the normal McCann, OK. I'll buy that. And there is some statistical support to that theory. His .735 August OPS and .799 September OPS were his 2 highest monthly values last season, and he hit 12 of his 23 home runs and accounted for 30 of his 75 RBI in those 2 months. At face value, it looks like McCann finally started settling in and finding his power stroke.
Until you look a little closer at the numbers and see that he only hit .219 in August and .222 in September. Or that he had an OBP of .281 in those 2 months and wasn't drawing any more walks later in the season than he was in the beginning. To be fair, McCann's BABIPs of .204 in August and .156 in September were the lowest 2 values of any month in what was a very poor BABIP season for him. But the rest of the numbers don't suggest he was doing anything differently or markedly better at the plate in the final 2 months of 2014 than he was in the first 4. He just happened to hit a few more home runs when he did get hits.
Compare the spray charts from those 2 time samples and you don't see much of a difference either. Here's McCann's spray chart from April-July 2014:
And here's August-September:
There's almost no difference. Same high volume of groundball outs to the pull side, same home run power exclusively to the pull side, same relatively even distribution of balls to the outfield. You could make the argument that the August-September plot is skewed a little more to the pull side, although I think that could just be attributable to the sample size difference. The point is that there isn't anything here to act as evidence that McCann really "found" something in the later part of 2014 when he started launching more home runs. Nothing in the numbers and nothing in the spray charts.
So what does that mean for McCann this year? That's what we'll be waiting to see in the first few weeks and months of the season. If he continues to struggle against the shift, swing at too many pitchers' pitches, and show inconsistent power at best, then it could mean that natural regression has set in. That would make the remainder of his contract much less attractive, no matter how good he is defensively, but it would not be the end of the world with John Ryan Murphy poised to start taking on a greater role. If McCann can bounce back this year, that would be very reassuring. It doesn't even have to be back to his career averages either. Something like .250/.320/.430 with 20ish HR in another 130-140 games would be just fine.
Is he capable of doing that? Only time will tell. But just as with the injury bounce back potential of Teix and Beltran, how McCann performs in his second year in pinstripes will go a long way in determining how successful the 2015 Yankees can be and will be one of the big stories to follow.