First off, I owe y’all an apology. My excitement over the first game against the offense-crazy San Francisco Giants may have jinxed the team for the final three games, if you believe in that sort of thing. It was what some may call a “goocher.”
That said, let me just briefly comment on game one against the Arizona Diamondbacks. What a display of power! Chris Johnson and Justin Upton made sure the D-
Bags Backs knew exactly what they lost in the offseason. And manager Kirk Gibson can say all day long that he’d do it all over again the same way if given the chance, but there’s no way there wasn’t a little discomfort in the owner’s box when Johnson flipped the bat (a little spitefully?) and trotted around the horn. If nothing else, dropping a game by nine runs couldn’t have felt good. Trust me, I know that feeling.
But we’re here to talk Brian McCann and his potential future with the Braves.
I’ve heard wild accusations and flippant remarks to “trade the bum” and “just give the job to Evan Gattis” and “polar bears actually have black skin.” And while I, too, have felt the frustration with Brian McCann’s struggles at the plate and his inability to find the right pair of glasses, it’s a much bigger decision than that. Let’s just go ahead and get this out of the way: Brian McCann has been to six All-Star games and has five Silver Slugger awards. He has a career slash line of .279/.351/.476 in nine seasons. I’m not saying he’s earned a seat next to Yogi Berra, but c’mon, that’s not too shabby.
You all know how high I am on Gattis, which is illegal in 48 of 50 states. He has gobs (scientific term) of physical ability, and the fact he could easily be confused with a redwood tree doesn’t hurt. He has one of the meanest stances in the batter’s box and uses the bare-handed approach to swinging a bat, which only increases comparisons to Paul Bunyan. Say what you will, but Gattis’ future in baseball looks pretty bright right now.
But let’s not forget about McCann, who batted .333 with 24 home runs and 93 RBI in his first full season with the Braves. Now, that’s only half of the coin. The catcher position is arguably the most important next to the pitcher, since they are involved in every pitch. Which is to say “good” catchers have to be able to field their position well in addition to swinging the bat. Most teams can forgo a top-tier batter for a good catcher. McCann does it on both ends. In fact, this guy and this guy (that’s Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, if you don’t like hot links) both preferred to pitch to Brian McCann because he was able to give them almost an entire inch extra on both sides of the plate because of his framing ability. Lesson time! Framing is what a catcher does with every pitch to try to convince the umpire that the last pitch was a strike, even if it didn’t quite get over the plate. Now, use it in an example and impress your friends.
I’ve heard people argue that Brian McCann isn’t great defensively, and I actually heard someone today call him “lazy behind the plate,” which is just silly and would be considered libel in a court of law. His career fielding percentage sits at .991, which is 1/100th of a point behind the average of all catchers in the same years (sourced from Baseballreference.com). I’ll readily admit there are numerous times I wouldn’t call his throw to second “good,” and my last couch may have suffered a break from me stomping on it when McCann made a terrible throw. And, certainly, a guy who goes out for shoulder surgery may cause concern if he has to make accurate throws of 127′-3″.
Here’s what I’ll tell you, having watched Monday’s game (which, I should point out, was my birthday and obviously the Braves wanted to give me a win. Thanks!). First, Brian McCann has lost a significant amount of weight. Which isn’t an observation based on attraction, although his new physique may give the ladies something to ogle. Second — and this one is obvious — he’s hit three home runs in four games. Which means he’s got the same pop in his bat and is seeing the ball well. Clearly. Third, his throw to second to gun down Didi Gregorious was the textbook definition of catching a runner.
So, what have we learned? Brian McCann’s bat is valuable once again. His arm seems to be in good shape. His specs or contacts or lasers or whatever appear to be in working order.
Some of you still aren’t convinced. I can tell. Because we haven’t covered value yet. His contract ends this year and his next one is going to have a bright, shiny, Fifth Avenue pricetag on it. Based on the league average, he should be able to pull down about $13-$14 million or more per year depending on how well his agent negotiates. I’ll tell you right now, the Braves probably won’t bite. I will actually be surprised to see Brian McCann in a Braves uniform next season. Then again, there’s a lot of ball to played yet, and a stellar year may change things. Besides, McCann’s slightly bearded mug is arguably the “face” of the Braves right now. Chipper Jones himself laid the mantle of “team leader” on McCann’s shoulders, and though that is subject to change, it does carry some weight.
Here’s the long and the short of it, if you’re into the whole brevity thing. Evan Gattis, while a promising young player, still has a lot to learn. Sure, he can get you some skis and point you in the direction of the black diamond trail as well as mop your floors and make ’em shine, but he is still adjusting to the major leagues. And if you’re doing that while learning from the likes of Brian McCann, well, I’d say the sky’s the limit, friend! I think Evan Gattis will be the long term option for the Braves, but while Brian McCann is having the kind of season he’s started, we all would do well to get on board.