What Brian McCann Can Do For You

McCann
The 2013 Texas Rangers offense would not be described as an indomitable force similar to the potent Rangers lineups of the mid to late 90’s. While the Rangers 730 runs scored were eighth most in the majors in ’13, the 730 runs were the 25th most scored in franchise history. Part of the issue is overall run scoring is down in baseball, as Russell A. Carelton details in this article advocating the bunt, but the 13′ Rangers did fail to generate typical offensive numbers yielded by past Ranger teams. The team was provided nothing by expected contributors Lance Berkman, David Murphy, and received very little from Mitch Moreland. Due to these reasons and abnormal summer weather at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, the Rangers 85 home runs and home slash of .268/.333/.412 were all the lowest in non-strike years at RBiA history.

After the Atlanta Braves postseason run concluded Monday night with a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, catcher Brian McCann unofficially became one of the most sought after free agents in this year’s thin free agent market. With the Braves already having Evan Gattis, and prospect Christian Bethancourt, as options to catch next season, McCann is unlikely to re-sign with Atlanta to a long-term deal. The Texas Rangers just so happen to have a need behind the dish with the tandem of AJ Pierzynski and Geovany Soto both not being under contract for 2014. McCann is one of the highly coveted left-handed hitting catchers who yields productive offensive numbers. However, while McCann’s addition would bolster the lineup of a team who had trouble offensively, one believes McCann’s defensive prowess would be most critical.

In the Baseball Prospectus book Extra Innings, the topic of how much the addition of a glove first player would benefit an already winning team is discussed. The book uses the example of a team which scored 700 total runs and allowed 550. (The ’13 Rangers scored 730 runs and allowed 636.) One might be surprised, but adding a solid defensive player who could save 20 runs to this type of team would be worth 0.7 more wins than adding a player who would add 20 runs to the offense. The reasoning is logical as reducing your overall run prevention will decrease the chances of the opponent defeating you in a close game. When he is not policing player emotion, McCann provides superb defense.

According to Fangraphs overall defensive ratings, since the beginning of the 2011 season Brian McCann’s defense behind the plate ranks 6th highest in baseball, over ten runs better than AJ Pierzynski. In the category Catcher Blocked Pitches in runs Above Average, McCann has saved 9.9 runs, while AJP has cost his team 6.7 runs in the same category.

One new aspect of catcher defense which is now being quantified is framing. For those unaware, catcher framing is the ability to catch the pitch and try to turn what looks like a ball into a strike. An effective framer can turn balls outside of the zone into strikes to get ahead in the count, or simply end an at bat. Tampa Bay Rays backstop Jose Molina is probably the most adept at framing pitches, while others such as the Brewers Jonathan Lucroy are also well skilled in catcher framing. Pierzynski rates very poorly.

Sabermetrician Max Marchi tracks how many runs catchers save with their framing ability, and according to his rankings, Brian McCann was ranked 5th in baseball through August with 18.5 runs saved because of his ability to frame pitches. McCann is one of the best in baseball at turning low pitches out of the zone into strikes, which is pivotal because if the pitcher is able to turn low pitches into strikes, the likelihood of allowing solid contact decreases during the at bat. Here are some compelling gifs of McCann in action. 

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The hitter is pitcher Andrew Cashner. Cashner is actually a decent hitting pitcher, but first pitch strikes are always important no matter who is at the plate.
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McCann again commits larceny here as he is able to help his pitcher jump ahead in the count 0-1.
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Poor Hunter Pence would have been ahead in the count 2-0, and could have prepared to tee off on a fast ball, but to no avail, the count is now 1-1.

If McCann was able to continue his current pace, he would have saved 22.2 runs based solely on his framing ability, and have been worth two wins alone. Having a catcher who can steal strikes drastically improves your pitcher’s chances of getting outs, especially if the pitcher is able to work low in the zone. In 2013, the Atlanta Braves pitching staff posted a MLB low 3.18 ERA and allowed a miniscule 512 runs, also the lowest in baseball. Some of their success can certainly be accredited to McCann and his framing.

Offensive numbers are certainly more reliable, and the more powerful hitters create more runs over the average replacement player than good defenders save runs over the average defender. However, McCann’s defensive prowess would benefit the Rangers just as much as his offense, if not more. If one wants to use an example of this concept, there is the example of Russell Martin’s defense contributing to the Pirates stellar season in ’13. In his age 30 season, Martin made himself an MVP candidate among sabermetricians with a league leading 22.7 runs above average among catchers defensively according to Fangraphs, and helped the Pirates have their first winning season since 1992.

Like with any player, the amount of money it will take to land McCann is the most important factor as to whether or not a team should sign him. McCann has averaged 2.8 fWAR from 2011-2013. So, a deal in the $15 million dollar average annual salary ballpark is likely. Also, McCann will more than likely cost a future 1st round draft selection because he will turn down the qualifying offer Atlanta will provide him. So, a GM has to be cautious as to not overpay because signing McCann will cost you a prospect, and he is entering his age 30 season. If the Rangers are successful in signing McCann to a reasonable contract, he should provide excellent value to an already formidable team with his bat, but most importantly, his glove. McCann also gives The Legend, Jorge Alfaro, ample time to develop in the minors. When Alfaro is ready, McCann can simply move to 1B or DH. 

Dustin Dietz is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at Dustin.Dietz@shutdowninning.com or on Twitter @DustinDietz18
Dustin Dietz
Dustin graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in Radio/TV/Film, and a minor in history. He will often write about pitching mechanics and analytical baseball stuff. You will more than likely disagree with the majority of what he writes or says. In his spare time, Dustin time travels and plays at a replacement level in slow pitch softball leagues.

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