Archive for Brian McCann
Over the last few years, as sabermetrics and all that stuff has become more popular, batting average has become underrated. It used to be overrated — not making outs and having a high on-base percentage is still the single most important aspect of hitting — but the art of getting a base hit is definitely underappreciated these days. There is more to life than that of course, but getting a hit is a big piece of the offensive pie.
Last season, the Yankees hit a collective .242 with a team .285 BABIP, rates that ranked 24th and 26th among the 30 teams, respectively. Injuries have a little something to do with the team’s low average, but remember, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira aren’t exactly high-average hitters. Derek Jeter and the out of sight, out of mind Alex Rodriguez are, however. Well, kinda. A perfectly healthy Yankees squad might have hit a few points higher as a team, but not much. The team’s .307 OBP (23rd overall) would have quite a bit higher with good health, I’m sure of that.
The Yankees rebuilt their offense over the winter and back in January I explained how the new-look lineup will bring more a patient approach and, theoretically, a higher team OBP. That’s pretty important. The Yankees didn’t just make too many outs last season, they made too many quick outs. It’s not much of a coincidence that two pitchers (Derek Holland and Chris Archer) threw sub-100 pitch nine-inning complete games against New York last season after only one pitcher (Roy Halladay, surprise surprise) did in the previous ten seasons. The makeshift offense was an impatient lot last summer.
Along with a more patient and disciplined offense should come a group that hits for a higher average. How much higher? I don’t think we could say with any degree of certainty. As underrated as batting average has become, it is still tough to predict because it fluctuates so much from year to year. Robinson Cano is my go-to example: he’s a career .309 hitter who hit .342 in 2006 and .271 in 2008. Did his talent level change in those years? No, it’s just baseball. Weird stuff happens in a game built around hitting a round ball with a cylindrical bat onto a 2+ acre swath of grass. Here’s a look at the Yankees’ lineup and its batting average potential.
Likely to hit .290+
With Cano gone, I don’t think the Yankees have a single player you can comfortably expect to hit .300 or better in 2014. I mean, how many players around the entire league would you safely expect to hit .300+ this year? Cano, Joe Mauer, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen, Joey Votto … that’s probably it. Hitting .300 is hard and few guys can do it year after year, especially in age of declining offense. That’s not to say others won’t hit .300, we all know those guys won’t be alone. Like I said before, weird stuff happens.
The Yankees have two players who are safe bets for a .290+ average this summer and both were acquired in the offseason. Jacoby Ellsbury hit .298 last season (.341 BABIP) and is a career .297 hitter (.326 BABIP) , so he seems to be the team’s best hope for a .300+ hitter. I do think Yankee Stadium will work against him though. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great place to hit, but Yankee Stadium is a homerun park. Fenway Park is more conducive to a high batting average with the Green Monster and weird angles. The park factors at FanGraphs bear that out.
Carlos Beltran hit .296 (.314 BABIP) last season and .288 (.313 BABIP) over the last three years, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he hit .300 or better this summer. Derek Jeter hit .316 (.347 BABIP) in his last healthy season and the guy used to fall out of bed and hit .300, but he’s coming off a series of leg injuries and a lost season at age 40. He hasn’t looked particularly good in camp either, though I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt after missing almost all of last season. So much rust to shake off. Tough to know what to expect from him, but I don’t think many would be surprised if the Cap’n had a big going away year.
As for an out of nowhere .290+ hitter, I’d put my money on Eduardo Nunez, who seems like a lock to make the roster and play more than expected at this point. Nunez makes a ton of contact (career 92.8% contact rate) and he’s fast, two skills that lend themselves to hitting for average, especially in small-ish (~300 plate appearances) samples. I’m not saying he’ll do it, but if you’re looking for a Yankee to come out of nowhere to hit for a high average, Nunez is a good guess. For now, I’ll take Ellsbury and Beltran as the team’s best chances for a .290+ hitter with Jeter an honorable mention.
Likely to hit sub-.250
On the other end of the spectrum, there are a few Yankees we can count on for a low-ish batting average. Kelly Johnson hit .235 (.276 BABIP) last season and .226 (.284 BABIP) over the last three seasons. He’s the safe bet to finish with the lowest average among the regulars. Johnson’s offensive game is built around hitting for power, stealing bases, and drawing walks. I have no reason to believe 2014 will be any different.
Alfonso Soriano hit .255 (.289 BABIP) last season, including .256 (.286 BABIP) with the Yankees. Over the last three seasons it’s a .254 average (.289 BABIP). He’s right on that .250 bubble at age 38. Brian McCann (.256 AVG/.251 BABIP in 2013 and .252/.263 from 2011-12) and Mark Teixeira (.251/.250 in 2012 and .252/.258 from 2010-12) are right there with Soriano. Brian Roberts managed to hit .249 (.267 BABIP) in 296 plate appearances last season and has a .246 average (.275 BABIP) while batting injuries over the last four years. He’s probably the second safest bet for a sub-.250 average this season behind Johnson.
Likely to hit somewhere in the middle
This is a bit of a cop-out, because the vast majority of players hit somewhere in that .251-.289 range. Or at least most regulars do. Bench players and pitchers are another matter entirely. Soriano, McCann, and Teixeira will probably be on the low-end of this range, Ellsbury and Beltran will probably be at the high-end (if not over), and Brett Gardner (.273/.342 in 2013 and .268/.325 career) will be right smack in the middle somewhere. There’s really nothing sexy about hitting somewhere in the .251-.289 neighborhood. The extremes are far more interesting.
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Last season, American League non-pitchers hit .256 with a .298 BABIP as the league average continues to drop. It was as high as .275 (.305 BABIP) as recently as 2006 and .267 (.300 BABIP) as recently as 2009, but down it goes. Ellsbury, Beltran, and Gardner give the team three regulars who you can pencil in for a better than average batting average with Jeter a possibility for a fourth. Others like McCann, Teixeira, and Soriano will be right around the average. Batting average is tough to predict, but based on their current talent levels and the last few seasons, the Yankees have six and possibly seven regulars likely to match or exceed the league average. Compared to last year, that’s pretty darn good.
I suppose the silver lining of last season’s terrible offense was a strong team defense. The Yankees employed guys like Ichiro Suzuki, Chris Stewart, Lyle Overbay, Luis Cruz, Alberto Gonzalez, Reid Brignac, and Brendan Ryan as regulars at various points of the year, guys who can’t hit but can play some solid defense. The club sported a collective +12.5 UZR and +21 DRS in 2013, rates that are only slightly above-average (13th and 10th in MLB, respectively) on a team-wide scale.
The roster has turned over substantially this past offseason, especially on the position player side. That should greatly improve the lineup, but it will also impact the team defense. Some of the players the Yankees acquired over the winter are very good defenders but others simply are not. Not every player the team added is a two-way threat. Far from it. Let’s look at where the Yankees are vulnerable in the field thanks to subpar defenders.
Last month I detailed how the team’s ground ball heavy pitching staff is not a good mix for their generally shaky infield defense, particularly at the non-first base spots. Mark Teixeira is a stud in the field and I have no reason to think a wrist injury will severely compromise his glovework. Maybe he’ll lose a step or two or some hand-eye coordination with age, but I don’t think the injury will have a huge factor on his defense.
Derek Jeter has moved around well in the field and on the bases this spring following all the leg injuries, but he’s still a negative on defense. We all know that. Brian Roberts has looked surprisingly agile during Grapefruit League play, so maybe he’ll be a positive in the field, at least while he’s healthy. Kelly Johnson comes into the season with only 118 career innings at third base and only 18 innings at first base, where he’s expected to be the starter and backup, respectively. He’s muffed a few hard-hit balls in camp so far, the kind that earned the position the nickname the “hot corner.”
The backup plans aren’t much better. Eduardo Nunez is inconsistent at best and an unmitigated disaster at worst defensively, and Scott Sizemore is coming off back-to-back left ACL surgeries. He hasn’t played enough in camp for us to get an idea of how he’s moving in the field. The various scouting reports indicate Dean Anna is an adequate to solid defender. Teixeira should be fine at first but all of the other infield spots come with defensive questions. I think the Yankees would be pretty happy if the infield graded out as a league average unit come the end of the season.
As of right now, it seems like the plan is to have Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran split right field and DH duties most of the time in 2014. There have been some rumblings Brett Gardner could wind up in right with Soriano in left, but that seems unlikely to happen. The Soriano/Beltran timeshare in right field appears to be the way things are heading.
Aside from one defensive inning in right field during Game Five of the 2003 World Series, Soriano has never played the position. Moving over there at 38 years old may not be an easy transition, and that doesn’t even consider his weak throwing arm. Runners will be going first-to-third on him all day. Beltran was once a top flight defender but he has slowed down considerably with age and injury, to the point where he’s graded out as a below-average defender over the last few years by the various defensive stats. Regardless of whether Soriano or Beltran starts, the Yankees will have a subpar gloveman in right.
It’s not all bad though. First and foremost, right field in Yankee Stadium is pretty small, so there’s isn’t much ground to cover in the first place. Two, with Gardner in left and Jacoby Ellsbury in center, Ellsbury figures to shade towards right to help cover the gaps. Three, Ichiro will almost certainly come off the bench as a defensive replacement for right field whenever the game is close. Even if Ichiro is traded or released or whatever, Zoilo Almonte can do the same job. Whenever they’re in right though, both Soriano and Beltran will be liabilities.
I mentioned this with Soriano in right, but it’s worth pointing out the Yankees have some weak outfield arms in general. Beltran’s is by far the best and might be the team’s best right field arm since Raul Mondesi way back in the day. Ellsbury’s arm is laughably weak and downright Damon-esque while Gardner’s is solid at best. Not particularly strong but accurate. Soriano’s arm is both weak and not accurate while Ichiro’s strong arm plays down because he takes forever to get rid of the ball. Gardner and Ellsbury more than make up for their arms with their range, but don’t expect to see many plays at the plate this summer. Beltran’s the only regular with a quality arm.
Brian McCann‘s Arm
McCann does a lot of things well, specifically hit and frame pitches. He is also said to be very good at blocking balls in the dirt and working with pitchers. The one thing McCann does not do well is throw. Last season he threw out only 24 of 100 attempted base-stealers, below the 27% league average. The year before it was 22%, and in case you’re thinking this might be related to his October 2012 labrum surgery, McCann threw out only 24% of base-stealers from 2006-11. He’s simply not good at shutting down the running game.
In order to compensate for McCann’s arm, the pitcher will have to make sure to pay attention to runners on first base. CC Sabathia should have it the easiest as a left-hander, but runners have been successful in 70% of their stolen base attempts the last three years. Hiroki Kuroda has held runners to a 62% success rate since coming to New York and Ivan Nova has held them to a 63% success rate in his relatively short big league career. Masahiro Tanaka … who in the world knows. Frankie Cervelli has an excellent arm (after some mechanical tinkering last spring) but McCann is going to be the starter because he does so many things well. One of those things is not throwing and it’s something the Yankees will have to deal with this summer. It’s the essence of taking the bad with the good.
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The Yankees have premium defenders at first base and in both left and center fields. The rest of the team will probably be net negative in the field, which is not ideal in an offensive ballpark in a tough division with a sketchy middle relief crew. This club is going to have to out-hit and out-pitch their defensive shortcomings in 2014.
In my opinion, the single biggest upgrade the Yankees made this winter was replacing Chris Stewart with Brian McCann behind the plate. They paid top of the market dollars for that upgrade — McCann’s five-year, $85M deal is the largest ever given to a free agent catcher by more than 60% — but the impact on the field will be enormous. Few things in the game are as valuable as a catcher who can hit while playing above-average defense.
Like every other long-term contract, McCann’s deal carries quite a bit of risk. It’s unavoidable. Catchers are riskier than other position players because the position is just so demanding. Squatting behind the plate day after day in the summer heat and humidity sucks enough — between the regular season and playoffs, McCann already has over 9,000 innings at catcher on his legs, most of them in the Atlanta summer — but then you have to add the foul tips and everything else on top of that.
Thankfully, the risk associated with McCann’s contract went down earlier this week. MLB and the MLBPA announced their new “experimental” rule regarding home plate collisions, a rule that eliminates needless contact. The runner can still run into the catcher if he has the ball and is blocking the plate, but that’s it. He can’t run out of his baseline to target the catcher and the catcher can’t block the plate without the ball. Reducing the number of collisions means reducing McCann’s injury risk.
“I don’t know if it’s going to [be hard to adjust to the new rule],” said McCann to Chad Jennings. “As long as you give the guy the plate before you have the ball, it’s kind of the same rule. … We’re taught to be in the right position so if you do get run over, you’re not going to get hurt from it. When you catch the ball, you do have to be in the right position because you are vulnerable for ACL [injuries], you’re vulnerable for concussions. You don’t want to see anybody miss time because of that.”
McCann, 30, has been remarkably durable (for a catcher) throughout his career, but he did miss about a week with a concussion following a collision with Shane Victorino back in 2008. We watched Frankie Cervelli suffer a concussion when he was run over by Nick Markakis in September 2011 (video) and Mark Teixeira send Bobby Wilson to the DL for more than a month with an April 2010 collision (video). Wilson, who didn’t even have the ball, suffered a concussion and a severe ankle sprain. The runner doesn’t even have to be running at full speed for a collision to inflict serious damage.
I’m not quite sure how I feel about the new anti-collision rule — it will take some getting used to, if nothing else — but the league wants the game to be safer, so it’s easy to understand why the ban was implemented. Given all the money the Yankees committed to McCann this winter, anything that can potentially keep him healthier is a big positive. Catching is still going to be crazy dangerous, but eliminating unnecessary collisions may help the team’s new backstop stay healthier and more productive deeper into his contract.
Exhibition games start tomorrow and the regular season is five weeks away. Between now and then, we’re going to preview the 2014 Yankees not individually, but by grouping players (and personnel) together into different categories. Today we’re going to look at the guys who will put the Bombers in Bronx Bombers.
The Yankees made history last season and not in a good way. They hit 101 (!) fewer homeruns last year than they did the year before, the largest year-to-year drop in baseball history. New York went from leading baseball in dingers (245) and ISO (.188) in 2012 to ranking 21st out of the 30 teams in both categories (144 and .133) in 2013, and their runs-per-game average dropped from 4.96 (second) to 4.01 (17th). The lack of power is a big reason why they missed the postseason for only the second time in 19 years.
Blame injuries (Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira) and blame roster construction (Ichiro Suzuki and Chris Stewart replacing Nick Swisher and Russell Martin, etc.) for the decline in power. All of that and more was a factor. The Yankees set out to fix that problem starting at the trade deadline last summer and they continued to add some power-hitting pieces over the winter. I doubt they will be able to hit 240+ long balls this coming season, but they should improve on last year’s power production overall. Here are the team’s primary power sources.
To the surprise of no one, Robinson Cano led the Yankees with 27 homers last season. Soriano managed to finish second on the team with 17 despite not returning to the Bronx until the deadline. The Yankees were that power starved. Cano left for the Mariners over the winter but the club will now have a full year of Soriano, which will help compensate a bit.
Despite turning 38 last month, Soriano has put together back-to-back 30+ homers seasons these last two years and he’s hovered in the .225-.238 ISO range over the last four seasons. He’s no longer the 40+ doubles threat he was earlier in the career, but he has managed between 27-33 two-baggers the last three years. Soriano is a steady 60+ extra-base hit bat and, most importantly, the average direction and distance of his batted balls has not changed at all since 2007. From Baseball Heat Maps:
You can click the image for a larger view. The chart on the left is the horizontal angle of the ball off the bat — so +45° is the left field line and -45° is the right field line — and the chart on the right is the distance. Each red dot is an individual batted ball (grounders excluded, so this is everything he hit in the air) and the vertical clusters are individual seasons, so 2007-13 from left to right.
At Soriano’s age, any change in his batted ball angle or distance would have been a red flag and possibly an indication his bat has started to slow beyond the point of no return. Instead, Soriano continues to hit the ball to all fields (slightly more towards right field) and just as far as he did seven years ago. Sure, he’s had to make adjustments over the years, most notably switching to a lighter bat in 2012, but the end results are the same. He’s hitting the ball the same way he has for much of the last decade.
Now, that isn’t to say this will continue in 2014. Things can go south in a hurry when you’re talking about a player closer to 40 than 35, but there have been no obvious red flags in Soriano’s game to date. Outside of 2009, when he missed a month with a knee problem, Soriano has been a consistent 25+ homer, 25+ double, .220+ ISO hitter for a decade now, and aside from sudden age-related decline or injury, there is no reason to expect anything different in 2014. He is the Yankees’ best full-time right-handed power source by frickin’ far.
New York’s catchers hit eight total homeruns last season, three of which came from Frankie Cervelli before he got hurt in mid-April. The catcher position was an offensive blackhole in 2013 and the Yankees rectified that problem by giving McCann a five-year contract worth $85M. The just-turned-30-year-old is one of only two catchers with 20+ homers in each of the last three seasons (Matt Wieters) and one of only eleven players (all positions) with 20+ homers in each of the last six seasons.
Of course, McCann hit all those dingers while with the Braves in Atlanta, playing his home games in a park that has been perfectly neutral in terms of left-handed homers over the last five seasons according to the park factors at FanGraphs. His lefty power was extra desirable to the Yankees because of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch, which is tailor made for McCann’s pull happy swing:
Don’t trick yourself into thinking McCann is something he isn’t. This guy is a pure grip it and rip it hitter who is going to try to yank everything over the right field wall. He’s going to hit .250-ish and walk enough (9.9% walk rate since 2011) to post decent but not great OBPs, but his real offensive value comes from his power. Homers too, forget about doubles.
I think the whole “sign a left-handed hitter and he’ll automatically hit a bunch more homers in Yankee Stadium” idea is generally overstated — not everyone’s swing fits the ballpark (see: Overbay, Lyle) — but McCann is exactly the kind of hitter who can really exploit that short porch. His career-high is 24 homeruns (2006 and 2011) and I wouldn’t be surprised if he finishes this year with 30-35 homers, especially if he spends some of his catching off-days at DH.
Over the last three years, only ten outfielders have racked up at least 50 extra-base hits in each season. Soriano is one of them and another is Beltran, his new teammate. Heck, if you want to bump up the arbitrary criteria, Beltran is one of only four outfielders with at least 55 extra-base hits these last three years. Soriano is not one of the other three.
The Yankees finally snagged their white whale (well, I think he was the fans’ white whale more than the team’s) this winter by signing Beltran to a three-year deal worth $45M, nine years after declining to sign him at a discounted rate before he joined the Mets. Beltran has aged remarkably well as a hitter, dipping below a 120 wRC+ only once in the last eight years, and that was his injury-plagued 2010 campaign. He’s also managed 20+ homers and 25+ doubles in each of the last three years and six of the last eight years, with 2009-10 being the only exceptions. Injuries limited him to 145 total games those two seasons.
Unlike Soriano and McCann, Beltran is a switch-hitter. He maintained a .200+ ISO against both righties and lefties these last two years (.214 vs. LHP and .202 vs. RHP) but he is a different type of hitter from each side of the plate. Beltran is pretty much a dead pull hitter as a righty and an all-fields guy as a lefty, though he does the most damage from the left side when he pulls the ball to right field at this point of his career (spray charts). That’s perfectly fine and plays right into Yankee Stadium. The concern is the declining distance of his batted balls:
Given his age (37 in April), that little downtick last year (really the last two years) is a concern. It’s not much, but pretty much anything is a red flag with a player this age. On average, Beltran did not hit the ball as far last year as he did the year before. Could be a one-year fluke, could be a sign of age-related decline. We’re going to find out in the coming months.
I am pretty confident Beltran will be a 20+ homer, 25+ double guy for the Yankees this coming season and right now that is the most important thing. He could fall completely off a cliff in 2014 but it would be a surprise to me. (The 2015-16 seasons are another matter for another time.) Even if he is starting to slip due to age, some of Beltran’s would-be homers should still go for doubles in 2014. The guy is such a good pure hitter and it’s not like he was bad in 2013. The somewhat early signs of decline are there though. No doubt about it.
Teixeira is a total unknown heading into this season. He missed almost all of last summer with a wrist injury, an injury that required season-ending surgery after a brief and failed return to the lineup. Teixeira is currently taking batting practice and is slated to start playing in Spring Training games in early-March, but wrist injuries are known to sap power even after the player has been cleared by doctors.
Even as his overall production has declined, the 33-year-old Teixeira has always remained a source of homers, hitting at least 33 dingers from 2008-11 and then 24 in 123 games in 2012. He has never once had a sub-.220 ISO during a full season in his entire career. Teixeira has admitted to changing his hitting style to take advantage of the short porch as a left-handed hitter and there’s no reason to think he’ll do anything differently going forward.
Guys like Jose Bautista and David Ortiz had similar wrist tendon sheath problems in recent years and it took them a few months before returning to their previous form. It’s easy to say Teixeira will hit for power because he’s always hit for power, but there’s just no way of knowing what he can do following the injury. He’s included in this post because hitting the ball over the fence is his thing, but there is a chance he might not do that in 2014, at least not early in the season. It might take him a while to get back in the swing of things.
The Yankees gave Johnson a nice little one-year, $3M contract back in December and he is now their everyday third baseman in the wake of Alex Rodriguez‘s suspension. The 32-year-old isn’t much of a doubles guy but he has hit at least 16 homeruns in each of the last four seasons, and he has power to all fields:
Johnson can hit the ball of the park in any direction, which is a good thing. He’ll get some help from the short porch but he’s also shown he’s strong enough to drive those outside pitches the other way. Is he ever going to hit 26 homers with a .212 ISO like he did in 2010 again? Probably not, but the 16 homeruns he hit in 2012 and 2013 might become 18-22 in the Bronx. Considering the Yankees only had one guy mash 18+ taters last summer, getting a similar number from a player like Johnson, who is slated to bat seventh, will be a welcome addition.
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On the other end of the spectrum, the Yankees do not figure to get much power from second base (Brian Roberts), shortstop (Derek Jeter), left field (Brett Gardner), or center field (Jacoby Ellsbury) this year. From that group, only Jeter (15 HR in 2012) and Ellsbury (outlier 32 HR in 2011) have managed to hit double-digit homers at some point in the last three years and neither is a lock to do it in 2014. Sure, Ellsbury might pop a few extra dingers with the move into Yankee Stadium, but for the most part his ground ball/opposite field approach won’t boost his homer total all that much. Those four guys will pick up some extra-base hits with their speed, but over-the-fence power isn’t happening. Soriano, McCann, Beltran, Teixeira, and Johnson will be leaned on for homers and extra-base hits.
Pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa today, and a few hours later Joe Girardi showed up to camp. His flight from New York was delayed because of all the snow. My goodness there is so much snow. Anyway, here is a not at all complete recap of Girardi’s annual start-of-Spring Training press conference, culled together from the Twitter accounts of reporters in attendance.
On Derek Jeter
- Girardi had “no inkling” Jeter was planning to retire after the season until the announcement was made. “We are going to miss him,” he said. “You want a guy like that to play forever.”
- Jeter’s playing time both in the field and at DH against left-handers is going to be based on how he feels on a daily basis. They won’t put a firm plan in place at this point.
- As for batting Jeter second, Girardi said “we’ll have to see,” but indicated he would like to split up the left-handed hitters. I wonder if that means Brett Gardner will bat leadoff and Jacoby Ellsbury will bat third. Or maybe Ellsbury at leadoff with Brian McCann batting third. We’ll see.
On the new players
- “It is the biggest transition I’ve been through … I think its important I get to know these guys,” said the skipper.
- Girardi believes Masahiro Tanaka loves the spotlight and will handle the move to MLB well.
- Kelly Johnson is the backup first baseman for the time being. They have not discussed playing McCann at first.
On the fifth starter competition
- Girardi plans to tell David Phelps, Adam Warren, Michael Pineda, and everyone else to make sure they take it easy early in camp and gradually build themselves up. They don’t want anyone getting hurt by doing too much too soon.
- “Anything is possible,” said Girardi when asked if they would be willing to use Pineda out of the bullpen. “When we traded for him, we expected him to be in our rotation,” he added. “We envision him as a starter.”
Via Andy McCullough: The Yankees hired former Yankee Eric Hinske as a pro scout after the season, and he helped the team woo Brian McCann to New York. “He was here, he was involved” said Brian Cashman of Hinske. “He helped me with Brian McCann … because he played with Brian. So I appreciate Eric Hinske giving Brian McCann a lot of good advice about his experience here with the Yankees. He was a great resource for about 30 days.”
Hinske, 36, was with the team for “about the month” before leaving to join the Cubs as their first base coach. You probably remember him as a member of the 2009 World Series team after being acquired from the Pirates at midseason. Hinske actually played for the Diamondbacks this past season, but he was terrible (49 wRC+) and decided to retire after being released in July. Long before he helped the Yankees land McCann, Hinske advised Evan Longoria to sign long-term with the Rays. Sounds like he might have a future in a front office.
Finally, we have the details of Brian McCann‘s vesting option, courtesy of Joel Sherman. The option for 2019 is worth $15M and vests with 1,000 plate appearances from 2017-2018, 90 games as a catcher in 2018, and if he’s not on the DL at the end of 2018. All of those conditions must be met. If the option vests, McCann can void it and become a free agent. For all intents and purposes, he must still be a starting catcher in 2018 for the option to kick in. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.
The Yankees have officially signed Brian McCann to a five-year contract with a vesting option for a sixth year, the team announced. He has passed his physical and all that. “The singular and unwavering desire of this organization is to construct a team each and every season designed to play meaningful baseball deep into October … Our work this offseason has just begun, but we feel this is an important step towards what will be an exciting and rewarding 2014 season for our fans,” said Hal Steinbrenner in a statement.
McCann will be introduced at a press conference on Thursday, which will be broadcast on YES. I’m pretty sure it will be their first press conference to introduce a new player since
Mark Teixeira Rafael Soriano. Been a while. The 2014 Draft Order page has been updated.
At some point soon — probably next week — the Yankees are going to finalize their agreement with catcher Brian McCann. They will add one of the best backstops in baseball at a substantial cost, reportedly $85M across five years with a vesting option for a sixth year. They’re clearly expecting big things out of him and why wouldn’t they? He’s been one of the most productive hitters of the last decade or so, especially relative to his position. Catchers who hit like this are rare.
Because the Yankees invested so much in McCann, they’re likely to look for ways to control his workload behind the plate in an effort to get as much out of him as possible. They want him to catch for all five years of the contract because that’s where he’s the most valuable — McCann is just another guy at first base or DH — even though it may not be realistic. He turns 30 in February and a five-year contract covers the years when most catchers turn into pumpkins, especially guys who have been starters for a long time. All that squatting behind the plate and all those foul tips take their toll.
McCann was a workhorse throughout his career with the Braves. He made his big league debut at age 21 and was an everyday catcher by age 22. From 2006-2012, his age 22-28 seasons, he started at least 113 games behind the plate each year and led all of baseball with 944 games caught total. He was limited to 91 starts at catcher this past season only because he missed April following offseason right shoulder surgery. That’s a lot of wear and tear and the team knows it. They don’t want their new addition to be a full-time DH by year three of a five-year deal.
Thankfully, that DH spot gives the Yankees a little bit of flexibility. It allows them to keep McCann’s bat in the lineup while getting him out from behind the plate for a day. Obviously other players like Derek Jeter will need to rotate through that DH spot — I really don’t like the rotating DH in general, but it’s a necessity for this roster at this point — but there should be enough starts available for McCann throughout the course of the season. Remember, he’s going to be the catcher first and foremost. DH is just an alternative for a day, nothing more.
The Yankees faced between 52-61 left-handed starters in each of the last five seasons, so a straight platoon with presumed backup Frankie Cervelli would limit McCann to roughly 100-110 starts behind the plate next year. That’s a bit below the 123 starts at catcher he averaged from 2006-2012 and it seems like a decent target to me. He could DH another 30-40 games — he will need some full days off of course, catching is hard — and that would get him in the lineup 140-ish times a year.
Sounds like a good plan, right? Well, platoons rarely work out as intended, especially for catchers. Blame injuries and hot/cold streaks and sorts of other unpredictable stuff. At some point next year the Yankees will face nine right-handed starters in nine days, something like that, and that will throw a wrench into everything. The Yankees also might not want to admit their shiny new $85M toy is a platoon player just yet. That stuff does happen. They could run McCann out there everyday against both righties and lefties at first just to see what happens. He did hit lefties from 2010-2012 (104 wRC+), maybe 2013 (72 wRC+) was a blip.
There’s an awful lot of stuff to consider when laying out a plan to keep McCann productive and behind the plate over the next half-decade, including his preferences. McCann might hate being the DH and that would be a factor in how they use him. Ultimately, the team owes him big bucks over the next five years and they should figure out the best way to keep him at catcher for as many of those year as possible. I think that 100-110 starts behind the plate number sounds pretty good because he would still get the majority of the games at catcher while having his workload reduced a bit from recent years. Coming up with a plan that works will be much easier said than done and it will be important. McCann’s going to be here for a while. The Yankees have every reason to look after his long-term well-being.
Last night, the Yankees made the single biggest upgrade they could have made this winter by agreeing to sign Brian McCann. They got close to nothing from their catchers last season and now they have one of the four or five best in baseball. McCann still has to pass a physical before the deal becomes official, and while that isn’t expected to be much of an issue, he did have surgery to repair his left shoulder last October. The team needs to take a good look at that. Here’s some other stuff I have to add.
1. Five years and $85M is pretty much exactly what I expected McCann to receive and probably a bit of a bargain in the current market. I mentioned in the Scouting The Market post that the bidding could get so out of hand — lots of big market teams need catching help (Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, etc.) — that it could take a sixth guaranteed year to land him, but the Yankees were able to avoid that. There is a vesting option, however. This is the third largest catcher contract in history behind Joe Mauer (eight years, $184M) and Mike Piazza (seven years, $91M), but it’s the largest free agent catcher contract ever. The previous free agent record was Jorge Posada‘s four-year, $52.4M deal prior to 2008. Good catchers are never available. This is also the largest contract the Yankees have given out since signing Mark Teixeira. As for the draft pick … who cares? I have no problem giving up a first rounder for a player of McCann’s caliber. The full no-trade clause bothers me more than the pick, but whatever.
2. The contract will count as $17M towards the luxury tax threshold these next five years, so, based on my most recent (unofficial) payroll breakdown, the Yankees still have about $27M left to spend this winter. They have to re-sign Robinson Cano with that money, so it’s not as much as it seems. Of course, that $27M would become roughly $61M if Alex Rodriguez is suspended for all of next season, but that’s hardly a guarantee at this point. If he’s suspended only 50 games, it still jump to $35.5M or so. The McCann contract means one of three things: a) the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold went out the winter, b) they’re going to let Cano walk, or c) they’re confident A-Rod will get suspended. After adding McCann, I don’t see how they can realistically re-sign Cano and stay under the threshold without Alex getting suspended. I mean, it could be done, but they would have very little to spend the rest of the winter. Some payroll shenanigans are afoot.
3. Although I think the Yankees should hang onto their catching prospects unless they get an overwhelming offer, I certainly understand the idea of trading one to help the team elsewhere. Gary Sanchez is the best prospect of the bunch but I actually like J.R. Murphy more as a no-doubt long-term catcher and think he is the best bet to take over behind the plate whenever McCann makes the transition to first base/DH. Assuming Frankie Cervelli serves as the backup next season, Murphy could spend the year with Triple-A Scranton (only played 59 games there last year) before starting a Joe Girardi/Jorge Posada-esque apprenticeship in 2015. That would make Austin Romine trade bait even though he probably has the lowest trade value of the trio. Still, young catching is hard to find and the Yankees should have no trouble finding a taker for Romine if they indeed decide to move one of their young backstops. I’d hang onto them just a bit longer though. None are sure things and catching depth can disappear in a hurry.
4. I’ve been messing around with batted ball distances these last few weeks — wrote this recently — because I think it’s pretty interesting, but I’m not quite sure what to do with it yet. I’m not sure how predictive it is or anything like that. It is fun to look at though. Courtesy of Baseball Heat Maps, here is every ball McCann has hit in the air since 2007, when the data started being recorded:
The vertical clusters are individual seasons (2007-2013 from left to right) and each red dot is a batted ball hit in the air, meaning a fly ball, a line drive, or a pop-up. Doesn’t matter if it went over the fence, fell in for a hit, or was caught for an out. If it was hit in the air, it’s in the graph. As you can see, McCann’s average batted ball distance (the black line) has been relatively unchanged over the years. I did add the blue line at 350 feet to show he didn’t hit the ball that far as frequently as he once did these last two years. That coincides with his right (front when hitting) shoulder problems, and there is some evidence suggesting an injury to the front shoulder can sap a hitter’s power for a few years or, in some cases, permanently. This doesn’t mean McCann is doomed or anything, he was a very productive hitter this past season, I just thought it was interesting.
5. So what’s next? Aside from getting Cano locked up, of course. The Yankees still need help at third base and in right field, but I think pitching is the biggest item on the agenda right now. Brian Cashman said they’re looking to add two starters this winter and that’s easier said than done. It doesn’t sound like Masahiro Tanaka will be posted anytime soon, but they could target a cheap-ish second or third tier guy to at least get the ball rolling. I’ve come around quite a bit on Scott Feldman (3.86 ERA and 4.03 FIP in 181.2 innings in 2013) and think he’d be a real solid pickup at the right price. The FanGraphs crowdsourcing and Jim Bowden (who’s been ridiculously accurate so far) both expect him to sign a deal worth right around $9M annually this winter, which is more than fair (and probably a bargain) for a number three-ish starter in this market. Landing someone like that solidifies the rotation while leaving enough money (assuming A-Rod is suspended) for Tanaka or Hiroki Kuroda or someone like that. Either way, pitching stands out as the biggest need now.