Thursday, April 10, 2014

New York Yankees: Brian McCann’s offensive slump overshadows work behind plate

The New York Yankees suffered a tough loss Wednesday night to the Baltimore Orioles by a score of 5-4. Catcher Brian McCann continued to slump at the plate and received a brunt of the blame from the fans in the stands and via social media.

There were plenty of scoring opportunities along the way that went by the wayside of which McCann seemed to be a part.

McCann signed a five-year, $85 million contract in the offseason and the main component fans saw was that he’s a 20+ home run hitter. Indeed McCann possesses very good power and of course any strong lefty hitter coming to the Stadium is going to be perceived to get a boost in the home run department.

Thus far, McCann is 5-for-33 (.328 OPS) on the young season and he’s already feeling the wrath of the fans. I get it; there is a lot of money invested in McCann and fans want/expect to see immediate results. What is going unnoticed thus far is that McCann has been contributing behind the plate. It’s a measure of his value to the Yankees that is unsung by many fans.

McCann is one of the best pitch-framers in the business. He has been at or near the top of the leaderboard in getting more called strikes on balls outside the zone and allowing fewer strikes in the zone to be called balls over the last several seasons. He currently sits number two in MLB with 1.7 runs above average where it concerns pitch-framing according to Matthew Caruth at StatCorner.

McCann has been able to get strike calls on 9.2 percent of the balls outside the zone thus far in 2014 which is tied for fifth-best MLB catchers with a sample size of at least 300 pitches (McCann's sample is 490 pitches). Further, he’s allowed 7.8 percent of pitches inside the zone to be called balls good for fourth-best among the same grouping of players. Of course, some of this is on the umpire, but simply put in the world of pitch-framing McCann is considered among the best at the craft.

Unfortunately, this fact is lost on some fans. Now I’m not suggesting fans should not be upset with McCann’s slow offensive start. It’s frustrating. I’m aggravated by it. But, I’ve been a proponent of McCann’s long before he donned pinstripes and was pleased with the signing. I think we all need to give him some time.

His minimal offensive production and the fans reaction to it is eerily similar to that of a former Yankee who came to the Bronx with loads of expectations and got off to a rocky start. Tino Martinez.

Martinez’s tenure as a Yankee was met with the unreasonable expectations of filling the shoes of one of the franchise’s most beloved players, Don Mattingly. Martinez went 3-for-34 (.343 OPS) in his first nine games and he was roundly booed by the fans. Martinez went on a tear for the rest of April -- .339/.391/.554 with three home runs and 13 RBIs across 14 games. He finished the season with a slash of .292/.364/.466 with 25 homers and 117 RBIs.

I’m not saying a turnaround is going to happen immediately for McCann, but I would suggest some caution when determining whether his first week and a half of games dictates the contract is a bust and that he’s downright awful. McCann has struck out just four times, plus some of his outs have been hit hard and directly into a shift so this is not a question of getting good swings in my opinion.

He’s got plenty of time to generate as strong a hot streak as this woefully cold start the season. For now, be satisfied that he’s learning how best to handle the pitching staff, they are giving him high praise and that the results behind the plate are benefiting the Yankees. McCann's seven seasons out of the last eight with 20 or more home runs (he had 18 in the other) were not flukes. They'll come in time.

McCann is a two-dimensional catcher and there are very few of them in the league. Right now, he has provided one side and at season’s end, I’d be willing to bet his offensive production catches up. What’s better is that the work behind the plate will not suffer for it.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.