Apr. 22, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann in the eighth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. The Diamondbacks defeated the Braves 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

What's Wrong With Brian McCann?


It’s May 10th and we have talked a lot about Braves players so far this season. Most of the talk has been around the pitching however, as they have been struggling recently both in the rotation and in the bullpen. We haven’t had much to complain about offensively, as the Braves are still at the top of the pack in runs scored. The 166 we have put up this year is good for 3rd in all of baseball behind the Rangers (170) and the Cardinals (167).

It’s a bit ironic then, that our most consistent hitter has been struggling, while the team has been thriving. It is a good thing that the team can be so successful with Brian McCann struggling but it’s a bit worrisome that he has only put up a line of .229/.306/.406. What’s going on?

The first thin I do when looking into a hitter is check out the player’s BABIP. It is a great indicator of the luck a player is having, and the obvious first stop for a concerned fan.

For his career Brian McCann’s BABIP is at .298. Excluding 2012 the lowest his BABIP has been in a full season is .282 in 2007. That year he still managed a .270/.320/.452 line with 18 homers, and 2.2 WAR. So far this year his BABIP is at .218. That is extremely low. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It is bad because obviously you don’t want a batting average of .218 on the balls you hit in play, but good because it is probably going to go up (along with McCann’s average, on-base percentage, and slugging). There is no reason McCann’s BABIP should stay .080 points below his career average unless he is injured.

After checking the BABIP and looking to see how far off it is from the career norm (especially a player who has been as consistent for as long as McCann has been) I check his batted ball profile.

McCann’s career batted ball profile is pretty good. A LD% of 20, a GB% of 37.4, and a FB% of 42.6% is definitely solid. This year McCann’s rates are even better. A 24.1% line drive rate, 34.9% ground ball rate, an 41.0% fly ball rate. So far he has cut down on the ground balls and is hitting over 4% more lin drives than his career average. That is no slight bump, a 24% line drive rate is extremely impressive and should be leaving McCann with a much better triple slash.

So what gives? It has to be all luck right? Just a lot of bad luck?

Well, luck is likely a large part of it. Here is a list of all the players in baseball right now who have a line drive right in the 24’s. Just to show you what kind of production they are getting:

LD% BABIP AVG OBP SLG
David Ortiz 24.7% .385 .362 .423 .655
Colby Rasmus 24.7% .257 .208 .274 .358
Yoenis Cespedes 24.4% .288 .245 .319 .434
Carlos Santana 24.3% .319 .265 .397 .431
Brian McCann 24.1% .218 .229 .306 .406
Gerardo Parra 24.0% .299 .263 .311 .400
Josh Reddick 24.0% .280 .264 .315 .479

Aside from Colby Rasmus, Brian McCann has the worst average, on-base percentage, and second to worst slugging percentage of all of these players, despite having a similar line drive percentage. McCann’s BABIP is the lowest out of all the players with a 24 something LD%.

Rasmus’s numbers are so bad because he has a low BABIP as well as horrendous strikeout and walk numbers as well as having the second worst ISO of the group.

We can check McCann’s walk an strikeout rates to see if anything out of the ordinary is going on there.

McCann is walking 10.3% of the time an striking out 12.1% of the time. His walk rate is higher than his career rate of 9.6% and his strikeout rate is lower than the career average of 14.0%. So now we know that the low average can’t be attributed to striking out a lot an the low on base percentage can’t be attributed to never walking. Something has to be going on out there in the field when Brian hits the ball.

Apr 13, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann (16) hits a three-run home run against the Milwaukee Brewers during the fifth inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Paul Abell-US PRESSWIRE

I can only come up with two reasons:

  1. bad luck is playing a big role in Brian McCann’s numbers
  2. the shift works… or at least the shift is working right now against B-Mac

I believe that both of these things are behind McCann’s poor numbers; as to which one is affecting him more, I couldn’t tell you. The shift has been talked about widely in baseball this year. There are people who believe it does help, and those that believe it doesn’t make much of a difference. The former group should probably use this information as evidence to their claim.

For a while McCann was underrated in the baseball world, but it seems like now teams are starting to notice him. Maybe they have known about him since 2005 but are now employing the shift more because nothing else has worked.

Brian McCann can still hit the baseball. If anything he is hitting the ball better than he ever has been. But now he is going to have to take another step up the ladder of success and adapt. He is going to have to show teams that he is fine with them shifting on him, and promptly hit the ball backside. If he isn’t able to do that we might continue to see him put up below average numbers.

Fortunately for McCann, Freddie Freeman is on the team, and if there is one thing Freddie can do, it is spray the ball all over the place.

 

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Tags: Atlanta Braves Brian Mccann

  • sserbin

    Due you have any sorted historical data on McCann’s BA and BABIP against the shift?
     
    Even that of course needs to be taken with a grain of salt because 2nd basemen routinely field him from the edge of the infield almost completely in the 3-4 hole, even with runners on base. The difference now is that the shifted 2nd baseman is 15-30 feet deep playing short right field.
     
    Just a cursory look at McCann’s spray chart from Turner Field this year shows ground balls to RF that resulted in outs 145ft, 160ft, and 172ft from home. There are no corresponding ground ball hits to the left side that would negate those “free” outs from using the shift. Rapidly scanning through the other parks, I only see one other hit stopped by the shift (Dodger Stadium).
     
    http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/player/brian-mccann/hitchart/336671?q=brian-mccann
     
    If we add in 4 more singles, that takes him to a .270 BA and .447 SLG. I don’t have time to do the OBP calc since it requires so many other stats, but the eyeball test says the effect will get him somewhere near .351. Mac’s triple slash from last year was .270/.351/.466 compared to his new “shift-removed triple slash” of .270/.351/.447. Clearly the shift matters so far, as Mac doesn’t seem to have a legitimate ground ball single to the left side of the infield (he had a 95 foot infield single to 3rd in Arizona but I seem to recall it was a checked swing).
     
    How much of an effect is BABIP having? Hard to say. Mac’s double rate is significantly down despite his homer rate being about the same and his line drive rates being up. I’ve gotten think that maybe a few of his gappers just are being hit in bad places. It only takes 2 or 3 of those almost doubles being a few feet this way or that to make the rest of the difference. I don’t have a spray chart with detailed enough flight trajectories to say which fly ball/line drive outs were lazy flies or bad luck line drives where we should statistically expect doubles.

    • Carlos Collazo

      Yeah it has to be a combination of the shift and just plain old bad luck, but it would be extremely difficult to say which is affecting him more.

  • http://tomahawktake.com/ CarlosCollazo

     @sserbin I thought I already replied to you but I don’t see it here right now. My apologies for that first of all. Secondly, I couldn’t tell you which is having the bigger affect, bad luck or the shift. I know that both are hurting him but not of each one. Unless someone creates some awesome new stat, we will probably just have to watch some more games and pay close attention to B-Mac’s at bats and how the defense plays him.