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.

 

Verdict

 

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.

 

Prediction

 

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)

Andy Patton

Andy is the Dynasty Manager here at PitcherList. He manages all of the prospect content on the site, while also contributing a weekly article on Deep League Adds and dynasty deep sleepers. Beat writer for the Seattle Seahawks (SeahawksWire) as well as the host of the Score Zags Score Podcast.

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Comments


Doug

McCann was raised and began in the non-shift era and had a very difficult time adjusting to it when it happened. He never came out publicly the way his teammate Mark Teixeira did when he said words to the effect of, “I’m not going to adjust it, I’m just going to hit it over the shift,” he certainly appeared to be in the same mindset a lot of the time he was with the Yankees and beyond.

That said, I’m not surprised by the lack of C’s in the hall… the position grinds players into the dirt, shortening their careers, and is defined by so many intangibles that it’s hard to actually quantify their benefit (or, in many cases, detriment,) season-to-season or career-wise. Writers that don’t actively and closely watch the careers of most catchers in MLB over the course of their careers aren’t likely to really know the contributions they make.

That said, I don’t think McCann is a HOFer either. Maybe if his career had begun 5 years earlier and the shift didn’t rob him of so much production he was able to produce early on, it would be possible, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t fall of the ballot pretty quickly.

Andy Patton

Agree with every single point. McCann hit .286 with a .300 BABIP from 2005-2011. He hit .237 with a .244 BABIP from there on out. Part of that is age but it’s clear the shift hampered him quite a bit.

As for the manager question, Berra, Dickey, Hartnett and Lombardi I believe did. Not sure on others. I also didn’t take a super close look lol.

Doug

*Girardi’s may a HOF C… if he doesn’t screw up his future mgr or broadcasting cred, but he’ll get there as a mgr. He’ll enter with pretty bad stats as a C, but he could very easily end up as a C in the HOF…

How many HOF C’s became mgrs? I know I’m being lazy here, but it’s the postseason.

theKraken

He was also way beyond his peak at that time. Check his season by season numbers – you can see how it went for him really easily. I am skeptical that the shift is ever responsible for much. I’ll tell you what I do and anyone can do it too. Next time you see that zoomed out image of a shift, take the guy standing on the grass and draw a line straight down to the dirt – that is where he should be playing – the other guy should actually be on the other side of second – trust me it won’t matter even though you think there is a big hole there. That guy up the middle is playing so deep that he can range a ton and everything to the right side is a very easy throw as he has momentum. As a bonus you have a chance in hell of turning a double play and you are not asking guys to play unfamiliar positions. The shift basically has two guys playing the same hole and they both end up limited in range because they are worried about each other. You would have to be baseball illiterate to stand right behind the lip of the grass and think that is a good idea. Guys don’t make plays because they are on the grass, they just field balls hit into the hole. “The shift” is really just a standard pull defensive alignment for the most part. The “other guy” on the wrong side of the field rarely makes a play. Most plays in the shift would have been made without the shift. Getting pull hitters out has never been difficult… especially nicked up 30 y/o catchers.

Next time you watch a game apply that logic. Nothing is 100% certain, but that works almost every time. Take the guy from the grass straight in to the dirt. Slide the other guy over to the correct side of second. Profit. You have to be incredible at infield to be a MLB infielder – you will be surprised about what they can do if you let them play their positions. Froma fans perspectivea all the coolest plays are not made in the shift. If all you are looking at is hit probability (flawed notion), then the shift might seem exciting on paper but I don’t see it play out in practice. Think about how many shifts we have seen this post-season – it hasn’t been much of a storyline. I sure as heck have seen it give things away though. One of the most unforgivable shift problems is that teams actually shade their CF to the wrong gap with the flawed idea that wasting that third infielder is limiting that balls headed to the gap. At the point where we have acknowledged that a guy is a pull hitter, you shouldn’t be giving away that gap. We are in an era where shifts are mindlessly deployed against the best opposite field hitters. There isn’t much going on there… don’t give undue credit to a bunch of ill-founded ideas imo.

theKraken

He is not a HOFer but I think he is close. He absolutely merits consideration though. I was just writing something about this the other day. I think he was a better peak player than a lot of guys in the HOF that had nice ends to their careers where they got in based on counting stats.He is one of the better catchers of all time but he played in a tough era. He was overshadowed on one end by steroids and on the other by juiced balls. His numbers just don’t stack up well and longevity wasn’t on his side. Well, only in the way that it pulled down his averages. You should not be using 15 years of data to judge his average. That is not fair to a person that doesn’t age gracefully and its inflated a mediocre career in the cases where the player has a good last few years. You should be looking at peak here. Additionally, you should not compare a catcher to any other position player (you are including DHs as well in your definition of average). Above average offense from a catcher is way above average for a catcher. Those scrubs you compared him to are platoon guys that will not be able to repeat those likely fluky numbers year over year – let alone 15 years. The fact that he played everyday should inflate the the numbers in reality. If you look at his career stats year over year you can see the injuries – he was a really great player but I agree that he is short of HOF, like a lot of what-if guys that had injuries that took something from them. I wouldn’t use terms like average with him though as that doesn’t do him justice. All the context gets lost in looking at an average season of a 15 year career. He seems clean by any standard and that kind of works against him too. Lots of those other catchers have late career offensive outbursts and they generally played through the steroid era, but McCann missed that party. The players that came up in the early 2000s and going to get screwed by no fault of their own. They also pay an additional penalty in that things like BB and AVG are valued far differently today and we penalize them for basically playing in a different era. If We accepted low AVG high BB in that era maybe that would have been what McCann did more of but it was not what was valued. That change in approach (not skills) would have painted a prettier wOBA, OPS+ or whatever OPS derivative anyone would use.

Catcher defense metrics are garbage…particularly over what was the majority of McCann’s career. I think the most honest thing would be to throw it out. He wasn’t a butcher though so I like to think he was not a bad catcher. Whether some kooky algorithm with questionable data spits out a -5 or a 30 I don’t think matters much. Ironically, I think the narrative is all that matters for a catcher. Did people like throwing to him? Did he cost his team games with mistakes? I would never say the same of a regular position player because it is hard to differentiate between a guy who makes thing look difficult vs a guy who makes difficult plays look easy. That really isn’t a problem with catchers.

I appreciate the article as I was happy just to see McCann even thought of as a HOF candidate. I fee like after a player retires the only thing left to do is celebrate their career. Let people talk about how great he wasn’t later. It would be cool if articles were overwhelmingly in support of HOF candidates but that isn’t how it shakes out. My HOF has all the steroid guys and everyone with an elite multi-year peak so I am obviously not a HOF voter lol. Let’s not forget that the HOF couldn’t be a bigger joke. It doesn’t include the single season HR leader, career HR leader or all-time hits leader. Clemens doesn’t own any particular distinction but he is the bets pitcher not in the HOF. The HOF is a joke – nobody should ever forget that. No reason to take any HOF debate seriously as it isn’t a serious place. That is where I come in just trying to say how great McCann was… not everyone was great and a lot of players have their value overblown but McCann wasn’t one of those.

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