Overall, the catcher position was a strength for the Braves, but not as much as we are accustomed to seeing. Brian McCann had, by far, his worst season of his career, and David Ross keeps chugging away as the best backup catcher in baseball. There are plenty of questions at the position going into 2013, but let’s see why there is such ambiguity.
McCann’s struggles can really be traced to one statistic, BABIP. Oddly, his batted ball profile was essentially the same as previous seasons. His BABIP to right field was .177, down from his standard .300-.320 range. A lot of people have attributed this to the growing number of shifts seen across the league. The percentage of balls hit that way was about the same as previous years, so a combination of the shifts, the persistent shoulder pain that required surgery after the season, and plain bad luck are probably the only ways to explain it.
His power remained steady, hitting about 13% of all flyballs out of the park, no different from previous years. The ISO drop is mostly explained by the steady drop in doubles, from 42 in ’08 to only 14 this past year. The lack of gap power is concerning, since McCann doesn’t have the raw power to live off homers. His plate discipline was normal, walking an average amount and striking out less than average. His 87% contact rate was a career high, while his 43% swing rate was a career low. The shoulder problems may explain this too.
McCann had plate discipline issues against lefties, and he had a much lower BABIP at home. He also struggled mightily with RISP, hitting .167/.280/.317. As we all know, Brian isn’t the fastest guy, and his speed cost the Braves a couple runs on the bases, but it was his lowest value of his career, probably due to him being on base less. Defensively, he was just a bit below average throwing runners out at 24%, while his framing abilities rated 3.5 runs above average, a skill he’s consistently rated above average.
One of the best bench assets in the league, Ross has provided above-average offense and great defense in his four seasons in Atlanta. The plate discipline has eroded the past couple years, but he’s squared up the ball and popped a few out of the park. Turning 36 next spring, the strikeouts may eventually catch up to him. He kept gunning runners out, throwing out 44% of basestealers, and ask Henry Blanco how long that can keep you in the league. He even managed to steal a base of his own, the first of his career.
Neither one of these guys are 100% assured of returning next season. McCann has a $12M team option for next year, while Ross is a free agent. Ross should end up being re-signed, possibly another two-year contract for between $1.5-2M a year. McCann is a lot trickier, as his shoulder will likely not be fully healed until April. Personally, I would just pick up the option and let him walk after next season if his poor numbers were more than a one-year aberration. The Braves could also decline his option and sign him to a less expensive extension, much like what the Braves did with Tim Hudson. He’s been too good for too long to give up on him after one injury-plagued season.