In the winter of 2013, Baseball Prospectus ranked Brian McCann as the off-season’s fourth best free agent. At the time, he was a 29-year-old, prime-of-his career catcher and a career .277/.350/.473 hitter. McCann had six seasons of at least 20 home runs and a career 10 percent walk rate. When he signed with the Yankees that December, it seemed like a major upgrade for a team whose catchers had hit just .213/.289/.298 with 26 extra-base hits in 2013.
Not everybody, however, was enthusiastic about McCann’s arrival in the Bronx. Some people, like his former manager, thought McCann would not be comfortable playing in New York. Others saw a catcher about to turn 30 with more than 1,000 games on his legs,whose number of games caught had decreased for three consecutive seasons, and was just a season removed from posting just a .245 TAv and 1.5 bWARP.
No matter how you felt about the signing, though, you had to agree on one thing: McCann would at least hit for some power in Yankee Stadium. After all, he was a left-handed batter who averaged 21 home runs per season from 2006 through 2013, and pulled the ball 46 percent of the time (league average was about 39 percent during that period), making him ideally suited for the Stadium’s dimensions.
So imagine most people’s surprise when McCann struggled at home throughout 2014, hitting just .242/.288/.496 at Yankee Stadium. He still produced a 117 wRC+, thanks to 19 of his 23 home runs coming at home. No other catcher in baseball hit more than 14 home runs at home, and only three players in all of baseball hit more than McCann’s 19.
While McCann’s power numbers were strong, he failed to do just about anything else offensively, especially get on-base. Of the 13 MLB catchers who had at least 200 home at-bats last season, McCann ranked 12th with a .288 on-base percentage. In fact, 2014 was filled with one disappointing homestand after another for McCann offensively. As you will see, nearly every homestand produced the same results: two or three home runs, few, if any, walks, and a miniscule BABIP and AVG.
In the season’s opening homestand against the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago Cubs, McCann went 5-for-27, good for a .659 OPS. He did hit two home runs in the eight games, but drew just one walk in 28 plate appearances. He posted just a .143 BABIP.
After a very good seven game road trip in which he hit .346/.393/.500, McCann’s struggles continued when the team returned home in late April. In seven games against the Los Angels of Anaheim, Seattle Mariners, and Tampa Bay Rays, he went 4-for-28 with a .454 OPS. He managed one home run, but had no walks and a .136 BABIP.
McCann improved slightly better during a 10 game homestand in late July, when he hit .270/.308/.405,. The plate discipline remained absent (no walks), but there was still some power (one home run). His .281 BABIP was his highest total for any homestand of four or more games in 2014, but in the Yankees longest homestand of the season, McCann walked just once in 39 plate appearances.
The July improvements preceded McCann’s one shining homestand, which came during a nine game stretch to open September. After a mediocre August overall (.219/.282/.453), McCann returned to Yankee Stadium for a nine game stretch against Boston, Tampa Bay, and the Kansas City Royals. In eight games, McCann hit .310/.355/.621 with three home runs. He opened the homestand by going 6-for-8 with two home runs in the first two games against the Red Sox. McCann, though, walked just once in 31 plate appearances.
Unfortunately, the newfound home success was short lived. In a nine game homestand that closed out the season (minus the final weekend series at Fenway Park), McCann hit just .207/.250/.517. Again, he hit for power (three home runs), but could do very little else (one walk and a .136 BABIP).
For the season, McCann posted a .214 BABIP at home, and a strikeout rate (14 percent) three times his walk rate (4.7 percent). The dip in home walk rate and overall walk rate (5.9 percent) was cause for concern. From 2005 through 2013, McCann posted an overall walk rate (9.5 percent) better than both the league average for catcher’s (8.0 percent) and the overall league average (8.4 percent). It was a major part of his offensive game that had vanished, and it was a cause for concern heading into this season.
That concern, though, dissipated almost immediately this season. Entering Tuesday’s game against the Minnesota Twins, McCann was hitting .288/.369/.595 with 13 home runs at Yankee Stadium. He owns a 160 wRC+ at home, and his .287 BABIP is nearly 70 points higher than last season. Of the 170 major league players who received at least 153 home at-bats through Monday’s games, McCann’s has the 13th highest OPS (.964).
So, why is McCann finding so much more success at home in 2015? Is he pulling the pull with greater frequency? Is he hitting more line drive and fly balls?
For starters, McCann is walking at rates consistent with his career numbers prior to 2014. This season, his walk rate has more than doubled at home, from 4.7 percent to 9.9 percent. In fact, McCann already has nearly as many walks this season (12) as he did all of last season (13), in 102 fewer plate appearances entering Tuesday night.
No longer a boom or bust hitter at the Stadium, McCann has more doubles this season (8) than he did in 2014 (7), and just 19 fewer hits.
Interestingly, McCann is actually striking out more frequently at home this season, but otherwise his home splits are comparable, with only slight increases in his home run to fly ball ratio and pull percentage:
|Season||Strikeout %||Line-Drive%||Flyball %||Infield Flyball %||HR/FB %||Pull %|
And unlike 2014, McCann had been remarkably consistent at home this season up until the previous three homstands:
|April 24 -29||17||.400||.471||.733||.455|
McCann, however, showed signs of busting out of his recent home slump against the Twins, going for 3-for-5 with a double and home run in the first game of their series. (Editor’s note: McCann went 0-for-3 with a walk against the Twins on Tuesday).
In 2015 at home, McCann is reaching base with greater frequency (and consistent with his career numbers) and riding a BABIP more than 70 points above last season’s average. He also remains a pull hitter capable of consistently taking advantage of the Stadium’s short porch in right field. The 2014 struggles appear to be an aberration, at least at the moment. As of Tuesday, Yankees play 19 of their next 25 games at home. This season, that has to be music to the ears of Brian McCann.
(Photo: Adam Hunger-USA Today Sports)