One can safely argue that based on the concrete numbers, Tigers catcher James McCann went through a sophomore slump in 2016 after having a relatively solid, yet quiet, rookie campaign in 2015. His slash line across the board took noticeable dips from 2015 to ’16 and he fanned at a higher rate last season as well.
A lot of that can be contributed to when McCann missed nearly the entire first month of the season due to an ankle injury. He struggled mightily to gain any traction, and while he showed pockets of a resurgence at times, he could never fully get back to that level he showed Tigers fans in 2015.
The 26-year-old Razorback has been determined this off-season to not only stay healthy but get back in shape as spring training draws near. And McCann says he is liking where he is at right now.
Catcher James McCann said he spent the off season committed to getting healthy and it shows: "I feel that I'm in the best shape of my life"
— Jennifer Hammond (@HammerFox2) January 21, 2017
McCann has shown a lot in his 2+ big league seasons with the Tigers. His defensive prowess is impeccable, as the raw numbers indicate he’s been one of the better backstops since he debuted as a starter in 2015. Last year, his caught-stealing rate of 45 percent was 2nd in the majors among all catchers who appeared in at least half a season’s worth of games. ‘Mac’ has been virtually mistake-free, just four errors in his 1600+ chances behind the dish. (Note: Catchers receive ‘errors’ in the same ways other position players do – dropped balls, wild throws resulting in extra bases, etc.)
The bat is still a work in progress, but let’s taking hitting for catchers with a grain of salt. Very rarely in the game of baseball do we see elite defensive catchers that are also some of the best hitters in baseball. Most teams will gladly take a catcher that hits anywhere between .240 and .260 in the season. It’s why there was a lot to be excited about McCann after 2015 when he hit .264 with a .683 OPS. However, to play devil’s advocate, one season is too small of a sample size to fairly grade any big league player. Seeing his batting average dip more than .040 points was a bit concerning but should not be all that surprising, it’s a common theme for young and inexperienced players.
In terms of the power McCann has displayed in his two full seasons, the number of extra-base knocks declined from 2015 (106 hits, 30 XBH) to 2016 (76 hits, 22 XBH). But when you rationalize those numbers, they’re almost identical. It’s important to know that Mac had 57 less at-bats in 2016 than he did his rookie season due to the injury in April. And the home run totals jumped from 7 to 12 between year one and year two, as did the RBI total, so there are signs of improvement in the power department.
Simply put, when it comes to hitting, McCann needs to just combine the averages from year one, the power numbers from year two, iron out his plate discipline some and what Detroit will have is a solid-hitting big league catcher for years to come.
Now a more underrated aspect that will be but should not be forgotten is McCann’s play-calling behind the plate. All while McCann struggled with consistency at the plate, manager Brad Ausmus continued to start him at catcher more often than not over backup Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was hitting far worse overall. The way McCann, and Salty for that matter, called games for the pitching staff down the stretch needs to be recognized.
Having the trust of the skipper Ausmus, a veteran horse like Justin Verlander, and a trio of youngsters finding their way in the show is huge for James. And I’m sure having an old backstop mate in Alex Avila back with the Tigers will only help McCann feel more comfortable and confident moving forward.
McCann is in shape and in the zone, ready to put 2016 behind him and bounce back for 2017.
**Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference