Across the Seams: Is Brian McCann a Hall of Famer?
On Wednesday after the Atlanta Braves were eliminated from the postseason at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals, longtime catcher Brian McCann announced he was retiring after an accomplished 15-year MLB career.
McCann spent most that time with the Braves, although he played with the Yankees and Astros as well, winning a World Series in 2017.
He was a seven-time All-Star and a six-time Silver Slugger winner, cementing himself as one of the greatest hitting catchers of his era, and arguably of all time.
But are his numbers enough for him to earn a plaque in Cooperstown? Let’s take a look:
Pros for McCann and the HOF
McCann’s power was undeniable, and his raw numbers compare favorably to some of the best catchers of all time. His 282 career home runs rank eighth among all catchers, and all seven ahead of him are in the Hall.
He’s 13th in RBI with 1,018, and the only players ahead of him who aren’t immortalized in Cooperstown are Ted Simmons, Victor Martinez, Lance Parrish and Jorge Posada.
McCann was clearly among the best catchers of his era. Over the last 20 years (1999-2019), he ranks in the top 10 in multiple offensive and defensive categories for catchers, including home runs and RBI, where he is first.
Traditional statistics may not be everyone’s favorite technique for evaluating Hall of Fame credentials, but they still dominate the narrative among BBWAA voters, and McCann’s relatively good totals in home runs and RBI, not to mention seven All-Star nods and six Silver Slugges, should help him gain votes.
Lastly, McCann’s defense deserves some love. He was by no means excellent, but his 7.6 dWAR is solid, especially considering he is 24th all-time in games caught. He was about average at throwing runners out, but he had an excellent fielding percentage and had a solid reputation behind the plate—again, narrative-driven arguments that may not matter to the analytics crowd, but could sway the voters.
Cons for McCann and the HOF
A lot of the advanced stats don’t back up McCann as a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate.
His career 31.8 bWAR is exceptionally low, even by the relatively lower bar for catchers in the Hall.
Jay Jaffe has an excellent stat called JAWS that uses multiple WAR measurements to compare players at their position, and McCann does not come out all too favorably.
There are 15 backstops in the Hall of Fame. Their average bWAR is 54.3, with a 35.1 seven-year peak WAR and a JAWS score of 44.7.
McCann falls well short in each of these categories, with a 31.8 bWAR, a 24.4 seven-year peak WAR and a JAWS score of 28.1. Those rank 34th, 39th and 33rd among catchers, respectively.
While you can argue that 15 is far too few catchers to be in the Hall of Fame, (and it is) it’s hard to argue that McCann deserve a spot. Guys likeSimmons, Posada and Bill Freehan all deserve a second look, but McCann’s numbers appear to fall short from the analytical perspective.
McCann’s WAR totals are not helping his cause, and neither are his rate stats. His slugging percentage of .452 is 23rd among catchers with over 500 games played, which isn’t exactly Hall-worthy for a player whose candidacy relies on his power.
His 110 OPS+ is possibly his biggest detractor, as it indicates he was barely above league average at the plate across his career. A 110 OPS+ is below fellow catchers like John Jaso and Omar Narvaez, and while he clearly played longer than them, it’s still not a great indication of a Hall of Fame-caliber hitter. Ivan Rodriguez had a 106 OPS+, although his candidacy is defined much more by his defense and his peak, two things McCann doesn’t have nearly as strong of a case with.
Finally, McCann falls short in all four of the HOF scores that Bill James created long ago: Black Ink, Gray Ink, Hall of Fame Monitor and Hall of Fame Standard. The average Hall of Famer has scores of 27, 144, 100 and 50, respectively, while McCann has a 0, 9, 84 and 35.
Close, but no cigar.
McCann was probably the best power-hitting catcher of his era, and while he was a fine defensive backstop who had solid longevity, won a World Series ring, and made a lot of All-Star Games, I don’t think his performance merits consideration for the Hall of Fame.
He didn’t reach any of the traditional counting milestones necessary for power hitters, even at catcher, and his rate stats indicate he was barely above average, and not Hall of Fame caliber. If I had a vote, McCann would not be on my ballot, although I suspect he will at least garner some votes in five years when he is first eligible.
It’s always hard to make concrete predictions on what voters will do five years into the future. Will the rule of 10 still inhibit voters from checking off everyone on the ballot they feel is eligible? Will known steroid users still be clogging up the ballot, or will the writers change their stance?
Regardless, McCann will get some votes from older, more traditional writers who like his hardware. However, I doubt it’s enough for him to reach the HOF, and I suspect he will fall off the ballot within a few years after falling below the 5% voting threshold to be eligible the following year.
Still, it was a hell of a career for McCann, and I wish him the best of luck in retirement.
(Graphic provided by @nathanmillspl on Twitter)