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Posts tagged ‘Brian McCann’

Followup on my 2015 Wishes

Prior to the start of last season, I considered each probable starter for the Yankees and made one wish for the upcoming season. Now that we’re rapidly approaching a new season and the dust has settled from the previous season, it’s time to see which Yankees lived up to my (completely unimportant) expectations.

THE PITCHERS

Masahiro Tanaka “That the arm holds up. Let other teams speculate about your health and distract their focus against you.”

Notice my hope was only about the health of his arm – not his contract, his performance, or whether or not he’s an ace. Tanaka did start more games (24) than he did last year (20), and as a result pitched more innings (154.0) than he did last year (136.1), including one of only two complete games thrown by Yankee starters in 2015. He had one trip to the DL which lasted from 4/28/15 to 6/05/15. (The year before, Tanaka was out from 7/6/14 to 9/21/14.)

Verdict: He pitched more, was injured less, and his arm did not fall off. Good!

Michael Pineda “Keep up the good work, Big Mike. And if you want to wear your hat a little straighter, I won’t complain.”

There were good days (Mother’s Day, when he struck out 16), and there were meh days (too many to mention). We saw a lot more of Pineda this year after his return from injury (160.2IP compared to 76.1IP last year), but yet only one example of really good pitching immediately comes to mind.

Verdict: …at least there was no pine tar!

CC Sabathia “Have a better season than I’m fearing you’ll have.”

I was really hard on CC – and I mean really hard. I predicted a loss every time he started because I was so confident opposing hitters would destroy him. For the first part of the season, that was true; in the first 24 games of the season he was 4-9 with a 5.27 ERA. Then came the blessed knee brace! In his final 5 starts of the season, Sabathia’s ERA dropped to 2.17 – much more like the workhorse we’re used to. He is now 35 years old and has thrown 2988.2IP and recorded 2,574K in his 15 year career. This was a difficult year for Sabathia personally and professionally, but even if his body wasn’t performing as he wanted it to, his heart was always 100% in it.

Verdict: Glad the end of the season was more like the old CC – and knee brace for MVP!

Nathan Eovaldi “Be that young pitcher no one expects to be great, and then dominate opposing teams.”

There’s a big difference between playing for the Miami Marlins, and playing for the New York Yankees. For example – Eovaldi had a 6-14 record in 2014 with the Marlins, and a 14-3 record this past season with the Yankees. His ERA in 2014 and 2015 are roughly the same while his starts and innings pitched were down slightly in 2015 due to injury. The numbers that really stood out to me were his 175 hits (down from 223), 72 runs (down from 107), and 72 ER (down from 97).

Verdict: He didn’t exactly dominate, but he’s a work in progress, and seems to be progressing well.

Adam Warren: “Be consistent and pitch well – there’s a reason you won this rotation spot – and don’t be one of the pitchers we have to worry about.”

Remember when Adam Warren was a starter? Those were my favorite Adam Warren days! I was fortunate enough to see two of his starts in person – one a narrow defeat and one a win. Of course later in the season Warren was moved to the bullpen where he proved to be just as effective. There was a certain amount of comfort in having him out there if a starter totally tanked (and not that Chris Capuano ever did…) because we knew he could give length. Or a spot start. Or really, whatever the Yankees asked of him, because he would do it. And he would do it well, and always without complaint.

Verdict: If anyone met and exceeded all my hopes for 2015, it was Adam Warren. I’ll miss him in pinstripes, but wish him tons of success with the Cubs.

THE INFIELDERS

Brian McCann (C): “You’ve had a year to settle in to a new environment – now it’s time to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s right field.”

There isn’t a huge difference in McCann’s stats in 2014 compared to 2015. He only hit three more HRs, but he did have 19 more RBIs. He had 20 more strikeouts, but also drew 20 more walks. He’s projected to have roughly the same kind of numbers for 2016.

Verdict: I’m not sure we can expect much more from Brian McCann as we’ve seen the last two seasons. That being said, I’m not at all disappointed with him.

Mark Teixeira (1B): “Don’t be stubborn: teams are going to shift, especially when you outright say you won’t try to beat the shift.”

For quite awhile early this season, it seemed like Tex’s approach to beating the shift was just to hit everything right over the shift. It didn’t seem to matter where anyone was standing on the field – he was just going to hit the ball right out of the park, probably yelling “I’ll show you!” as he rounded the bases.

Verdict: This is, by far, the most hilarious example of being proven wrong I can think of from this season!

Stephen Drew (2B): “Crack .200 for your batting average and look like you can play 2B.”

What an odd player Stephen Drew turned out to be. I’m not sure anyone in baseball history has ever hit 17HRs while only hitting .201 for the season (of course he had to add that extra .001 to his average, just to spite me). As for his fielding, I have to give him credit for switching positions after age 30. He’s demonstrated versatility playing 2B, SS, and 3B during the season, as well as having some (very random) power at the plate. He could be a very good utility infielder for the Nationals this year.

Verdict: He just barely broke .200 before he was shut down for injury the rest of the season. He certainly wasn’t the best 2B in MLB last year, but he also could have been a lot worse.

Didi Gregorius (SS): “Don’t get rattled by replacing one of baseball’s biggest stars on one of the largest stages in the world.”

I’ll admit I was hard on Didi early in the season. He had a bit of a rocky start with a mental errors (working with a former Gold Glove shortstop helped), but showed great improvement as the season went on.

Verdict: Do we all love Didi yet? I think we all love Didi!

Chase Headley (3B): “Keep the good New York momentum going.”

In his nine years in MLB, Chase Headley has made 83 errors at 3B. In the first eight years of his career, he had never made more than 13 errors in a single season (2010) and even won a Gold Glove with the Padres in 2012.

During the 2014 season, I was extremely judgmental of anyone who tried to play 3B – mostly because they were “replacing” my favorite player, but also because they were pretty terrible. When Headley came to New York, it was like a breath of fresh air. Finally, there was someone competent who could play 3B – and then he signed a four year contract as a free agent. Things were good!

But then came the 2015 season, and a career high 23(!!) errors. At times, I wondered if the Yankees might actually get better defense from 40 year old Alex Rodriguez.

Verdict: Biggest disappointment of 2015.

THE OUTFIELDERS

Brett Gardner (LF): “Be that gritty player who flies under the radar and leaves teams wondering “Where the hell did that guy come from?””

Gardner always has a rough second half of the season. At this point in his career, I’m not sure that will ever change. One thing I absolutely love about Gardner is that he always, always gives it all he’s got. He doesn’t often get the recognition he deserves, especially for someone who had to fight just to play college baseball and is now an everyday player for the New York Yankees.

Verdict: Gardy finally got the recognition he deserves, being selected to his first career All Star game at 31 years old.

Jacoby Ellsbury (CF): “Steal a ton of bases – and maybe another steal of home.”
Bonus wish: “Have a ridiculously good game against the Red Sox. Just explode offensively and defensively, and silence those Red Sox fans who claim they’re happy you left Boston.”

Early this season, I really thought it was going to be Ellsbury’s year – he started the season hot. In the first month and a half of the season, he hit .324 with 48 hits, 29 runs scored, and an impressive 14 stolen bases. Every time I turned a game on, he was running – and it was like a dream come true. This is the Jacoby Ellsbury I wanted to see!

When things seem too good to be true, they often are. On May 19, Ellsbury sustained a right knee injury and spent May 20 through July 8 on the disabled list. As luck would have it, he injured his knee in the first of two games in Washington, and of course I had tickets for the second game. (It wasn’t all bad news though – I was there for Slade Heathcott’s MLB debut!)

For the rest of the season, Ellsbury was okay. Average. Definitely far less exciting than he started the season. There was no amazing game against the Red Sox either.

Verdict: If I could only judge Ellsbury’s season up until May 19, it would be a big success.

Carlos Beltran (RF): “Do something to make me excited you’re on the team?”

Beltran and Sabathia are similar in that I really expected zero from either of them. The difference between the two is that I actually feel bad for judging CC so harshly. I’m still not wildly impressed with Beltran.

In all fairness, his bat did heat up later in the season and often at key moments of the game. But the defense was terrible. Every joke about Beltran riding a Rascal around right field were completely justified. Outs turned into hits. Running looked nothing short of pathetic. At this point in his career, Beltran probably is best suited as a DH, but on this current roster, it’s just not possible.

Verdict: The excited moments were few and far between, but there were a few.

THE DESIGNATED HITTER

Alex Rodriguez (DH): “Don’t blow it.”

Remember when Alex Rodriguez returning from his suspension was the worst thing that could ever happen to baseball? We’ve come a long way.

Over the past year, he’s shown tremendous growth personally and professionally. We saw a man who, at forty years old, finally seems to be comfortable in his own skin – and proved he can still play professional baseball after spending the better part of the last two years watching from a distance. He has said and done all the right things, allowing many people to forget just how much they hated him just a year ago.

Verdict: No words could accurately express how happy I am to see this version of Alex Rodriguez.

 

The regular season starts in just a few short weeks! Hopefully, I’ll have a whole new list of hopes and dreams for this year’s team. Stay tuned!

On Catchers…

Before this year’s ALDS Game 3 between the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers, I was running errands and listening to the local Orioles radio network pregame coverage between stops. They were doing a typical interview with manager Buck Showalter, but one segment in particular caught my attention. As transcribed by asapsports.com:

Q. Can a guy like Caleb [Joseph], he’s had a long career to get to this point and he struggled offensively September into now. What do you do with a guy like that to keep him centered? And how important is it to have Nick Hundley around?
BUCK SHOWALTER: They both had their periods. I think they understand that we’re not just lip service about where their priorities are. You’re going to take four at bats a game and you’re going to make 100 and 200 decisions behind the plate.
The math is real easy on that, how do you impact the game more?
What we get from them offensively is just a luxury. It’s still one of the amazing things to me in baseball, a quality offensive catcher that is an offensive force in today’s game.
The way it is played it is so challenging for catchers physically, mentally, and emotionally because all this information now about pitch sequence, stuff that they have to constantly be rebooting the computer in their mind.
I think they know, would we like for them to crutch in an RBI or hit here and then? Sure, but that’s a luxury the way we look at it, and I think they know that. And they’ve both brought that very consistently.
Fortunately for Caleb, he showed us glimpses of why he should have won the Eastern MVP last year and almost drove in over 100 runs.
He’s a better offensive player than he’s shown us here lately, which he’s shown us at times this year. He got going there and helped us offensively for a while, but it wasn’t his priority.

This really made me think about catchers – what their role is for the team and just how much is required of them. At about this same time, the Yankees season had ended and the debate on whether or not Brian McCann had met expectations for his $17million/year salary. The general opinion was that he had not lived up to his potential as a Yankee, especially considering the short distance from home plate to the right field wall. He managed to finish 2014 with 23 homeruns and 75 RBI in 140 games, both improvements from his 2013 numbers with the Atlanta Braves (20 homeruns and 75 RBIs in 102 games). In my opinion, not bad numbers – but when I thought about those numbers compared to the 2014 season as a whole, it took on a new perspective.

Yankees pitching in 2014 turned out to be a strength, but was somewhat of a revolving door of uncertainty throughout the season. Only four out of the five starters lasted the entire season. New pitchers – both starters and relievers – were brought on by trades, waivers, and the minor leagues. I don’t know how many pitchers actually wore pinstripes this season, and frankly I haven’t counted. What I do know is that there were just four catchers for all season long – usually McCann and occasionally Francisco Cervelli, with John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine filling in for injuries to either of the catchers – or when a catcher floated over to first base to fill in for an injured Mark Teixeira.
I’ve often said that catchers have to be tough players. Anyone behind home plate has to be prepared to take a beating; there is a reason they wear so much protective gear. Not only do you have to remain in a squatting position for nine innings (assuming you don’t go into extra innings), but you have to be prepared to be hit by balls and by bats, and you might even wind up in a collision at home plate (although that is less likely due to the change in rules for plays at home). And don’t forget about that special glove. We as baseball fans love to see the pitch tracker counting into the 90-100mph zone – but someone’s got to catch that fireball being thrown. During an ALCS game, Royals’ catcher Salvador Perez actually switched out his glove in the middle of an inning, likely because it was no longer giving his hand enough protection.

During my short time as a softball player in my youth, I was catcher for exactly one game – and hated it. It was the middle of summer in northeast Ohio, and even though home plate was shaded by a big tree and summers in Ohio are not that humid, the whole game felt like torture. I hated the weight of the protective gear, I hated squatting for the whole game, and I played the whole game with a constant fear of being hit in the head with a wild pitch – or a wild bat from the girl on the other team. My catching hand was sore at the end of the game, and I walked away wondering how did professional players do this – willingly – for a paycheck. At the time, Sandy Alomar, Jr was my favorite player, but after a day “in his shoes” I figured he had to be a little stupid to be 6’5” and crouching for 9 innings to catch a baseball.

The catchers Buck Showalter made reference too aren’t small guys either. Caleb Joseph is 6’3” and 180lbs, while Nick Hundley is a little smaller at 6’1” and 200lbs. The Orioles regular catcher Matt Wieters (on the disabled list following Tommy John surgery) is as big as Alomar – 6’5” and 240lbs. Brian McCann is 6’3” and 230lbs. Salvador Perez is 6’3” and 240lbs. On average, catchers are the second largest players, behind only first basemen.
It’s important to mention the size of catchers, because agility is a huge part of their defense. A large stature is beneficial to block pitches that miss a catcher’s target, but is can be a challenge if a pitch goes wild. Assuming there is at least one runner on base and a pitch goes wild, a catcher has an extremely short period of time to jump up from the plate, grab the ball, and (hopefully) hold or throw out the runner. The same agility and quick movement is required when attempting to throw out a base stealer, making a play on a bunt, or when a runner advances from third to home. Maybe a catcher even sees a gutsy player like Jacoby Ellsbury who actually stole home in 2009 as a member of the Red Sox.

Going back to the point Showalter made, any player is going to have four or five at bats per game, depending on the length of the game and batting order. Compare those few at bats to the number of pitches a catcher sees during a game, which can vary a lot. Starters are frequently throwing around 100 pitches in a game before the call to the bullpen. Let’s say each game totals approximately 150 pitches, give or take. As Buck said, even for a poor math student like myself, the math is simple. There are roughly 5 at bats and roughly 150 pitches in every game (again, those numbers can vary). Which number has more value to a team and the outcome of a game? I would say the 150 pitch count.

When considering the number of pitchers the Yankees had this season, and even if all the pitchers stayed healthy and lasted the entire season, it’s also important to remember that each pitcher is different. They have different pitches, some stronger than others, and they all have a slightly different throwing style. For position players, whoever is on the mound doesn’t change how you play your position a whole lot. You may expect more ground balls or fly balls depending on who is pitching, but the fielding doesn’t change much. However, with every pitcher who steps on the mound, the catcher has to adjust to that pitcher. The pitcher-catcher battery is incredibly impressive to me, and just think for a minute how much it requires mentally – on both sides – for every pitch. Together, they’re not just playing catch between pitcher’s mound and home plate. They’re making logical decisions for each pitch based on each batter’s strengths and weaknesses, and considering any other batters who have reached base. If that’s not one of the most impressive aspects of baseball, I don’t know what is.

Catchers a big guys, and their job is tough physically and mentally. Would I love to see catchers, especially Brian McCann, be offensive monsters? Absolutely – it makes for exciting baseball. But if given the choice, I’m inclined to take a strong defensive catcher with average offense versus a strong offensive catcher with average defense.
All things considered, I am content with Brian McCann’s first season in the Bronx. He’s had a full year to settle in to New York. With a (hopefully) more consistent starting rotation and bullpen roster next season, I am optimistic McCann’s offense will pick up for next season. Above all, I have incredible respect for everything required of a catcher during each game and throughout the season.