Guest Week: Brian McCann, the New Old Elite Catcher
By Tripp Eason (@trippical)
August 9, 2013
Coming into the 2013 season, Brian McCann’s value was at an all-time low. He was coming off easily the worst season of his career in which he slashed .230/.300/.399. He was still mildly productive in counting categories, ranking 9th among catchers in home runs (20), 11th in RBI (67), 18th in runs (44) and even tied for 8th in steals (3). However, McCann underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder in October, which forced him to miss the first 30 games of this season.
Those two factors led the way to many people saying McCann over the hill and in his decline phase. All he’s done since returning is swat 16 home runs, drive in 44, score 29 times and slash .275/.356/.512 over 70 games and 278 PA’s. Projecting his current pace over 535 plate appearances (his average number of PA’s per full season), he’d hit 31 bombs, 85 RBI and 56 runs. Those 31 home runs would well exceed his career high of 24, while the 85 RBI would sit comfortably near his 2009 high mark of 94. Additionally, his current .238 ISO would rate as the second highest of his career and would rank as the best among qualified catchers since Jason Varitek’s .239 ISO in 2003.
While anyone can see he’s having a great fantasy season, the real questions come down to his long-term value. Can he stay healthy over the course of a season or even several seasons? When will the decline begin and how fast will it happen?
Baseball is not a kind sport to catchers. They take a greater beating than any other position. But McCann has shown an ability to stay on the field. This will be McCann’s first year since his rookie season in which he fails to play at least 121 games. Prior to this year, McCann had only taken three trips to the disabled list, two for the minimum stint and one for only 18 days.
McCann will turn 30 in February, but catchers 30 and older have had a decent amount of success in recent years. Over the past decade, 2003-2012, there have been 95 player seasons where a 30+ year old catcher made at least 400 PA’s. Of those 95, 37 posted a wRC+ of 100 or better. So there are plenty of recent examples that prove the fateful age of 30 is not a death knell to a catcher’s career.
The timing of a player’s inevitable decline is impossible to predict. What we can do is look over a few statistics that might shed light on McCann’s aging trajectory. McCann’s 2013 line drive rate (25.1%) and HR/FB (20%) both mark career highs which show he is hitting the ball with as much if not more authority than in any other season. He is also swinging at fewer pitches, yet making more contact, showing his plate discipline and approach are improving. This will be especially helpful in OBP leagues.
All in all, most signs point to McCann being that elite offensive catcher we knew for so many years. Because of his age, poor 2012 and missed time this year, there is a good chance he is undervalued in your league. For a team in its competitive window or fast approaching that time frame, Brian McCann will be a valuable, stable backstop for the next few years that may come at a discount.