2014 Midseason Grades: The Catchers

Fan Confidence Poll: July 14th, 2014
McCann makes adjustments, eliminates toe-tap before strong road trip

Even though it is not technically the halfway point of the season — the Yankees are 58% of the way through the 2014 season, in case you’re wondering — there is no better time to review the first half than the All-Star break. Over the next few days we’re going to hand out some real simple and straightforward grades, A through F, for the catchers, infielders, outfielders, rotation, and bullpen. These grades are totally subjective. Let’s start with the backstops.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Brian McCann — Grade D

If the Yankees wanted a defensively sound catcher with a .294 OBP and an 83 wRC+, they could have simply played on of their young upper-level guys everyday instead of signing McCann to a five-year, $85M contract. His first half was a colossal disappointment overall, especially offensively. McCann’s glovework and apparent leadership guiding the pitching staff are the reasons I’m giving him a D rather than a straight F.

From 2010-13, McCann posted either a 122 or a 123 wRC+. The one exception was the 2012 season, when he managed an 87 wRC+ while battling a right shoulder labrum injury that required offseason surgery. When healthy, he (very) consistently produced at the plate in recent years. This year though, McCann comes into the break with a .239/.294/.377 (83 wRC+) batting line, which ranks him ninth out of the ten catchers qualified for the batting title (only Dioner Navarro has been worse). Even with his strong first half-ending road trip, he’s been that bad overall.

Unlike offense, catcher defense is a very thing to quantify even with all these fancy stats we have today. StatCorner says McCann has one again been an excellent pitch-framer, and he rates right in the middle of the pack when it comes to allowing wild pitches and passed balls. I don’t think that’s been a problem. I mean, we watched Jorge Posada for a very long time, we know what it looks like when a catcher struggles to keep the ball in front of him. Considering all the nasty breaking and offspeed pitches on the staff — Masahiro Tanaka‘s and Hiroki Kuroda‘s splitters, David Robertson‘s and Dellin Betances‘ curveballs, Shawn Kelley‘s slider, etc. — I have no complaints about McCann’s receiving work at all. He’s been solid, as expected.

One thing we can measure is the rate at which a catcher throws out attempted base-stealers, and McCann has gunned down 21 of 48 runners, or 43.8%. That’s outstanding. It’s fifth among catchers with at least 300 innings behind the plate and second only to (who else?) Yadier Molina among the 16 guys who have caught at least 500 innings. McCann came into the season with a below-average career 23.8% throw-out rate. Is this a fluke? I don’t think so. I think this is Joe Girardi‘s and Tony Pena’s work. They have helped some others improve their throwing in the past (Frankie Cervelli, most notably) and it appears they helped McCann this year. He might not sustain a 43.8% throw-out rate, that’s pretty high, but I don’t think the improvement is dumb luck.

Overall, McCann has undeniably been a disappointment this season. He was expected to provide not just more offense than he’s given, but a lot more. He has not been able to fully take advantage of the short porch in right, perhaps because he’s been focused on hitting to the opposite field to beat the shift — his 20 opposite field hits are already more than his total from 2011 (14), 2012 (15), and 2013 (19). Given his overall lack of production, maybe it’s best for McCann to be himself and focus on ripping the ball to right. Trying to beat the shift seems to be dragging down his offense overall. The Yankees need more from McCann in the second half. There’s zero doubt about it.

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)
(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

Francisco Cervelli — Grade C

The first half was a typical first half for Cervelli. He showed enough to keep you interested with the bat, hitting .273/.333/.364 (95 wRC+) in 48 plate appearances. He also threw out some attempted base-stealers, four of twelve (33.3%) to be exact. And he got hurt, missing two months with a Grade II hamstring strain. Cervelli actually played more games before getting hurt last April (17) than he did in the first half this year (16). I can’t possibly go any higher than a C because of the injury and missing so much time. Cervelli is a perfectly cromulent backup catcher for a team with a clear number one (in theory) like McCann. I feel he has performed exactly as expected when healthy.

John Ryan Murphy — Grade C

When Cervelli got hurt, Murphy got the call and showed flashes of why he’s expected to one day be an everyday catcher. He started off very well with that bat before slowing down and finishing his cameo with a .286/.308/.365 (85 wRC+) batting line in 63 plate appearances. Murphy threw out two of ten attempted base-stealers and did allow eight passed pitches in 159.2 defensive innings, so the superficial defensive stats aren’t all that impressive. He looked very much like a young catcher getting his first extended taste of the show. There’s a decent chance Murphy will be traded in the coming weeks, but right now he is a capable backup catcher stashed in Triple-A.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Austin Romine — incomplete

Yes, Romine did actually spend some time with the big league team this season. The Yankees called him up and briefly carried three catchers when Mark Teixeira landed on the 15-day disabled list with his hamstring injury in April. Romine spent four days with the team, played two innings behind the plate in a blowout and struck out on seven pitches in his lone plate appearance. That’s it. Romine’s prospect shine has dimmed considerably over the last year or two, and he is currently a part-time first baseman/Murphy’s backup in Triple-A.

* * *

The bar behind the plate is rather low these days, so even with McCann being such a big disappointment, Yankees’ catchers still rank only 19th out of the 30 teams with an 85 wRC+ this year. I thought it would be worse. They have collectively been very good defensively, throwing out 38.6% of attempted base-stealers (third best) while allowed one passed pitch every 22.2 innings (15th). StatCorner says McCann, Cervelli, and Murphy have all been better than average pitch-framers as well and I buy it based on the eye test.

The Yankees just need McCann to hit more, that’s it. Cervelli staying healthy would be nice too, if for no other reason than possibly upping his trade value. On paper, this should be one of the best and most productive two-way catching units in baseball. They’ve gotten the defensive value in the first half. Now they need to offense to catch up in the second half.

email
Fan Confidence Poll: July 14th, 2014
McCann makes adjustments, eliminates toe-tap before strong road trip
  • BaltimoreYankee

    cromulent.

    • http://BigABaseball.com ProjectNeo

      Mike’s proper use of the word cromulent only embiggened my love for this site.

    • The Guns of Navarone

      Hahaha that’s exactly what I was going to post. Reading that word made my day. I love this freakin site.

    • Emily Litella

      What’s all this talk about communists?

  • tom

    I am satisfied with those grade, unfortunately. We have to give McCann some good applause because pulling for HR during under climatic pressure always is a colossal failure. McCann takes a break from pulling to continue improving opposite hitting.

    I hope he gets comfortable and starts to have several of strong peaks in 2nd half.

    Cervellli has been solid by his standard. With youngsters and washout veterans coming in to help stabilize Yankees’ rotation, he needs to stay healthy for a full 2nd half.

    Those could help McCann and Cervelli improve Axisa’s grading marks for them.

  • Scott

    I really believe McCann will be fine at the plate after the ASB. He is hitting .366 in his last 10 games, with at least one hit in 9 out of 10 of those games. He brought his avg up from .221 to .239 in the past 14 games. I think he needed to adjust to the new league, team, pitchers (both the Yanks and opposing pitchers) and NYC.

    Mike A, or anyone else out there, do we know what is up with Soriano? Is he going to retire, will the Yanks work out a trade or is he officially a FA now?

    • tom

      He should be a free agent by now.

  • http://twitter.com/matt__harris Matt :: Sec109

    “There’s a decent chance Murphy will be traded in the coming weeks…”

    This is based on speculation, not fact…and I’m not sure I agree with it.

    • I’m One

      No one said it was fact. You’re free not to agree with it, however it has been reported that many scouts from other teams have been impressed with Murphy. He’s one of their top trade chips, so if they decide to pull off any type of significant deal, “There’s a decent chance Murphy will be traded in the coming weeks…”

    • BigDavey88

      He speculated he would be traded, you are speculating otherwise. None of us actually know. Also, #RABsemantics.

    • RetroRob

      He is one of the Yankees better trade prospects now, and with McCann signed for four more seasons, and Sanchez pushing up from AA, and Cervelli and Romine still around, it’s not hard to see Murphy being traded at all.

    • ChuckIt

      I most certainly don’t agree with it.All I have been hearing on this site lately is Trade the top prospects,but not to who,or for what.Anything realistic ,anyway.

  • jgibs

    Is this just a copy of the grades I saw on espn.com from Andrew Marchand? If so, let me know now. I’m a busy man

    • tom

      Don’t be absurd.

    • BigDavey88

      Guys, he’s a busy man.

      Help him out, pls respond.

    • trr

      why not stop by my house some time when I’m not home?

      • Soylent Greene (formerly Electric Nunez ll)

        Being a “busy man” might entail a career in burglary… Just to be on the safe side, don’t give him any ideas.

        • trr

          My 2 German Shepherds just love visitors!

  • Yangeddard Solarte

    McCann gets an F for me. Whenever you start talking about a catcher’s value as defense only you’re in Chris Stewart territory. McCann was brought in to be a big bopper in the lineup. He was to hit 5th/6th and be our Jorgie. He’s been an $85 million Chris Stewart. If he were making $2 million/yr and hitting 8th or 9th his numbers would be fine.

    None of the other catchers have done bad. They’re only backups so what can you really expect from them?

    • soxhata

      Agreed.Looking toward 2015,I think you must keep Murphy.Cervelli is a below average catcher,who is injury prone.This season is done.Don’t care how many games we’re out.Losing all your starting staff,except for Kuroda,who has a history of sucking in the second half,pretty much sums it up.Murphy was pretty impressive this season,and there’s no guarantee that McCann will ever hit like he did a couple years ago.

    • trr

      Hyperbolic overkill, as usual.
      McCann has been a huge disappointment (so far, but nothing can compare to the unbridled suckitude of Chris Stewart

  • hornblower

    The media and RAB pushed for this signing. He is a good receiver and an ok offensive player. He has done a good job with the young pitchers and calls a good game. The fact that the rest of the lineup is poor is not his fault nor is the size of the contract.

    • I’m One

      I still feel it’s too early to determine if this will be a good or bad signing (it is a 5 year deal, after all), but I feel Mike’s grade is fair. You could, of course, argue that it should be slightly higher due to his leadership with the pitching staff and defense, but it’s certainly not out of line for the first half of this season.

      Going forward, I’m hoping he’ll make us forget about the first half of this season …..

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      I’m confident in McCann returning to form and, really, he’s in year one of a five-year deal, so you might as well choose happiness there.

      He’s been frustrating at the bat at times, but I like what he does behind the plate, and I just plain like him. Not arguing the letter grade. Whether I’d give him a C or D isn’t really worth arguing.

      I wasn’t the biggest cheerleader as to the signing (or, really, any of the signings) at the time, but that’s neither here nor there. He’s our catcher now.

      Remember the good ol’ days of the off-season, when we didn’t care because it wasn’t our money?

    • RetroRob

      A 120 OPS+ player is very good at any position, and exceptional at catcher. He has a track record. I’m not concerned about him.

      • ChuckIt

        McCann’s only downside at the moment is his OP,but you have to give some allowance for changing leagues.The year end grade is what matters. Plus,remember the days when the “shift” in your defense meant shading guys to the right or left?

    • willie w

      I wanted to sign mccann

      3 years $40 million

      no more or he can go elsewhere to some other sucker

  • http://www.twitter.com/mattpat11 Matt DiBari

    I would have been pretty comfortable giving McCann an F until I saw those defensive numbers. I really felt like he let more balls than I expected get by him (particularly in big spots. He really felt like the master of the passed ball with a guy on second and one out in the eighth inning) and I didn’t think he threw out that many baserunners.

    But the stats are what they are, so the D is fair.

  • trr

    Looking at these grades through the preception of reasonable expectations, I am in agreement.

  • Vern Sneaker

    Disagree strongly with McCann’s grade. He’s been a good catcher and has 10 HRs and 39 RBI after 94 games. Grades should be for performance, not measured against expectations or that we want more. He’s a “C” and only that low because of his BA. His production stats project to approx. 17 HRs/65 RBI. That’s not a “D” especially for a good defensive player.

    • trr

      Vern, it’s perception. McCann was brought in with the expectation of far more offensive production then what he has acheieved so far.

      I think we all hope his final grade is a few notched higher!

      • Vern Sneaker

        Sure. We all want more from him, but that doesn’t make him a “D.” If the lineup around McCann was mashing the way the team did around Posada we’d be happy as hell with him and giving him a “B” and saying we hope he gets his BA up.

        • The Great Gonzo

          Man… I think I almost agree with this line of thinking. If you take a step back from the shadow that is cast on McCann by the backstops in Yankee History that he replaced (most notably and most commonly used being Jorge), he’s got ALOT less to work with around him this season then Posada ever did.

          If you were expecting McCann to come in and carry thins team like Jorgie before him, then you might have unrealistic expectations.

          All that said, his line as been bad. Getting better, but still bad

          • trr

            I don’t think anybody was really expecting McC. to carry the team, but I think most of us felt he would be a more credible source of power for this power-starved lineup and that he would have produced far greater BA/OBP numbers. I do have to say that McCann has really shined behind the plate.
            I was fully on board with bringing him in, and hope the recent uptick in his production is a harbinger of a better second half – this team needs it!

    • willie w

      not for $85 million

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        I thought it wasn’t our money. All off-season, that’s what people told me.

    • Mister D

      I agree with your disagreement. Catcher is primarily a defensive position, and McCann has proven a strong upgrade in this area. I don’t think it a coincidence that our starters have overachieved this season. Yes, the offense hurts, and yes, if this was graded on expectations or value, a D or F would be justified, but on performance alone I would nudge it up to something in the C range.

  • Darren

    Every single manager, catcher and announcer talks about the importance of pitch calling, controlling the staff, and defense.
    If the general consensus is that McCann has done an above average job in those areas, I don’t see how he gets a D. His offense alone has been a D, not an F, so shouldn’t his overall grade be a C?

    And how does Murphy get a C? His defense looked Ok and his offense was pretty good? As a backup rookie, wouldn’t that meet or exceed expectations? Doesn’t he deserve a B or even an A ??

    • RetroRob

      Murphy’s C does not mean he contributed more than McCann did with his D. It’s expectations and skill and playing time, so McCann will get a lower score. Remember, he’s supposed to be a part of the Yankees offense and he is one of the reasons for the offense’s weakness.

      I believe he’ll be fine, but his first year so far has had issues with the bat.

  • Ed K

    Murphy deserves a B. He did pretty much everything he was asked as a backup. That is why he is a trade chip. Mike, you are too hard on him.

    • http://thewebsitemarketingagency.com Geno

      Agreed. If these are according to expectations, a just-turned 23-year-old catcher doing what he has done is at least a B. At least.

  • Frank

    Agree for the most part although I’d elevate Murphy to a B.

  • cooolbreeez

    He also grades high in smart phone inactivity, that’s got to be worthy something.