Should we be concerned about Brian McCann?

Brian McCann has gotten off to a terrible start to the 2014 season. Here in mid-May, he’s hitting just .212/.252/.345, and his wRC+ of 59 is worse than all but 12 qualified batters. McCann’s essentially been a replacement level catcher. That’s obviously significantly worse than anyone’s expected, and is certainly not what the Yankees signed up for when they agreed to pay him $85 million over the next five seasons.

One of the culprits for McCann’s poor performance has been his tendency to reach for pitches outside of the zone. McCann’s historically been a relatively patient hitter, good for a walk rate in the 9%-10% range, but his eye hasn’t been as discerning of late. His 2014 O-swing% currently sits at 35.1% — up from 28.8% in 2013. Unsurprisingly, swinging at all of those bad pitches has led to an unacceptable 4% walk rate.

Another possible explanation for McCann’s performance is the infield shift, which have become commonplace this year. Most likely, the shift has taken a few hits away from McCann this year. And although its hard to substantiate, its possible that trying to go the other way more often has thrown his entire approach out of whack. McCann’s been one of the most shifted against players in baseball this year and seems to have responded by trying to go the other way more often. For better or for worse, he’s pulling the ball less frequently than in the past, especially with balls hit in the infield. In 2013, 70% of his infield batted balls were hit to the right side, but this ratio has fallen to 54% this year. Here’s a visual of McCann’s batted balls:

McCann hit a litany of grounders (signified by green dots) to the right side of the infield last year, but hasn’t been doing the same through the first few weeks of 2014.

Between swinging more often and trying to beat the shift, its clear that McCann’s hitting approach is much different than its been in years past. Its hard to say for sure how these changes have influenced McCann’s performance, but they do give us strong reason to believe there’s more to his horrid start than just bad luck.

So is it time to start panicking? Not quite yet. After all, it’s still only May, and plenty of good players have had a down couple of months only to go right back to being themselves. But given the circumstances, I’m a little more concerned about McCann than your run-of-the-mill under-performer. We’ll see how he hits going forward, but it’s probably safe to say that McCann isn’t quite as good as we thought he was heading into the season. Hopefully his true talent level is closer to his 122 wRC+ from last season than to this year’s 59 mark.

This article was originally featured on Pinstripe Alley.

About Chris

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, and is an occasional user of the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell
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