What do the Mets have in James McCann? He was a non-descript catcher with the Tigers for parts of five seasons, as he posted a .240/.288/.366 line in 1,658 PA. That’s an okay AVG, a poor OBP and a poor SLG. Then McCann goes to the White Sox and puts up an .808 OPS. He improves across the board, most notably with a boost in ISO to the tune of a .198 mark. Then in his first year with the Mets, not only doesn’t McCann match what he did with Chicago, he’s actually a hair worse than his lifetime marks with Detroit. Is there any reason to hope for a rebound in 2022? Here’s what the computer models think:
ATC — .238/.298/.385, 7.1 BB%, 27.5 K%
Marcel – .246/.309/.401, 7.3 BB%, 27.3 K%
RotoCh – .249/.312/.400, 7.6 BB%, 28.6 K%
Steamer – .229/.292/.371, 7.1 BB%, 27.7 K%
THE BAT – .234/.299/.373, 7.4 BB%, 27.7 K%
ZiPS — .236/.293/.368, 6.7 BB%, 28.3 K%
While the above projections are better than the actual results last year from McCann, they’re not anything that we would call good. RC has the most optimistic results and they only see a .712 OPS or 96 points below what he did with the White Sox. It seems fair to say that most of us expected better than that when the Mets signed McCann to a 4-year deal. We didn’t necessarily expect Chicago numbers, rather in the neighborhood of a .750 or so OPS. And it certainly doesn’t look like that is in store here in year two, either.
At the rate of these projections, we should hope Francisco Alvarez rakes and can take over as the starting backstop sometime in 2023. Many will stump for Tomas Nido to take playing time away from McCann this season. But it’s not like McCann was in there every day in 2021. He had just 412 PA on the year. If Nido gets the PA that Patrick Mazeika got last season along with his own, that would make him a 248-PA backup. It’s possible that the extra playing time there with Nido would prove him deserving even more. But that’s not a bet anyone should rush out to make. In 431 PA in the majors, Nido has a dismal .566 OPS.
Getting back to this year, just how bad is it with McCann? The hope, much like with Eduardo Escobar, is that he can hit enough homers to be dangerous. McCann had just a .117 ISO last year and the highest one from the projections is the .155 from Marcel. To be useful, he’s got to be significantly above the most optimistic forecast from our six models. That’s simply not a good place to be for anyone.
Everyone complains about 21st Century baseball, where all of the hitters seemingly swing for the fences on every pitch. But it’s hard to imagine McCann being successful any other way. He had a .304 BABIP last year, so it’s not like the hits weren’t falling in for him. Last year in Spring Training, the announcers were so complimentary about how McCann hit the ball to right field. My opinion is he should stop that completely. Instead, he should try to pull the ball in the air each time up.
McCann’s batted ball profile last year included a 1.80 GB/FB rate, with a 51.5 GB%. With those numbers, it’s not too difficult to see why he only hit 10 HR. It was a bad 1-2 combo, with too many groundballs and not enough of the balls he hit in the air leaving the yard. Just as bad as the 28.6 FB% was the 13.3% HR/FB rate, which was less than half of what he posted in the category in 2020. While McCann did pull more balls last year than in his time with the White Sox, he saw his hard-hit percentage drop over 10 points from what he did in 2019.
It’s hard to recommend this approach but it seems to me that McCann should emulate 1980s-era Dave Kingman when he comes up to the plate. If he’s going to strike out nearly 30% of the time anyway, he might as well try to pop 25 homers while doing it.
In his second tour of duty with the Mets, from 1981-1983, Kingman posted a .208/.294/.429 line, which was good for a 102 OPS+. Last year, McCann with his groundball output posted a 77 OPS+. McCann’s not likely to post an OBP that high with an AVG that low. The question is if he can post a .221 ISO. That might be out of his reach, too. My totally biased forecast for McCann is:
.229/.292/.404, 7.1 BB%, 28.7 K%