CHICAGO --- New York Yankees catcher Brian McCann is as earnest as they come. When he says slipping on a pin–striped uniform is unlike any other, he sounds sincere. There is a championship expectation, which he says he loves.
In the winter prior to the 2014 season, the Yankees gave McCann a five-year, $85 million contract to be a key cog in the next group of championship teams. Today, McCann is basically a platoon player.
On Tuesday, he again sat versus a lefty. He only started one game against a lefty in June. While he has hit better lately, he is not hitting enough. He is also throwing worse.
"This year, we have not been getting what we expected," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "He is better than this.”
McCann, Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran -- the vaunted free-agent class of 2014 that cost nearly half a billion dollars -- were supposed to help the Yankees win their next title. This season, Beltran is an All-Star, and Tanaka has been excellent. Ellsbury has been good, yet he is still far from great. But McCann hasn’t really earned his keep.
While the blame for the Yankees' low position in the AL East standings often falls at the feet of guys such as Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira -- older players who should be complementary parts at this juncture -- McCann has largely been overlooked.
He entered Wednesday hitting .232 with 13 homers and 35 RBIs, numbers which have improved drastically during a recent 11-game hot streak. Over his past 41 at-bats, he has hit .341 with five homers to raise his average 25 points.
Still, on days when a lefty is on the mound, the 32-year-old McCann is almost always on the bench. He is baffled by his regression against lefties.
He has batted just .204 against them in 49 at-bats this season. In his first season with the Yankees, he hit .292 against lefties; last year, he hit .241.
“I can’t put a finger on it,” McCann said.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi won’t say McCann is platooning with the right-handed hitting Austin Romine, but he is.
“No, not necessarily, but it has kind of worked out that way,” Girardi said.
Romine is hitting .305 against lefties.
Be it against lefties or righties, McCann might be the hitter most impacted by the shift in baseball. Only David Ortiz, Chris Davis and Ryan Howard have faced shifts more than McCann, who has seen them 984 times over the past three years.
Among the 51 players shifted 350 times or more since McCann became a Yankee in 2014, McCann owns the worst batting average on balls put in play at .226, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. On ground balls, his average sinks to .128 (38-for-297).
Another aspect of his game that has gone the wrong direction is his ability to nab base stealers. When the Yankees signed McCann, he was just a year removed from shoulder surgery. In his final year with the Atlanta Braves in 2013, he was not great at throwing runners out, only nabbing 24 percent -- four percentage points below the league average.
Under the Yankees’ catching coach, Gary Tuck, who Girardi once praised as one of the best in the business, McCann was at 37 percent in 2014, 10 points better than the MLB average, and 36 percent last year, four points higher than the league.
This season, with Tuck let go, McCann is throwing runners out only 20 percent of time, which is nine points worse than the league average. Cashman said it has nothing do with Tuck’s departure. McCann wouldn’t say if Tuck’s absence had impacted him. Girardi sees no difference.
“I think it has been pretty good,” Girardi said of McCann’s throwing.
McCann’s standing among catchers in Wins Above Replacement is like his team’s status this year -- stuck in the middle -- as he has a 1.0 WAR, which is 13th among catchers in baseball. Since he has been a Yankee, his WAR is sixth among catchers at 5.6, which falls behind Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy, former Yankee Russell Martin, Salvador Perez and Derek Norris. Posey’s WAR is 13.8.
With the way McCann approaches the game, you could imagine him on those Derek Jeter-led dynasty teams. But on a team fighting to remain .500 with which he is supposed to be a main man, McCann is supposed to lead. So far this season, he hasn’t done that enough.