Brian McCann is a top-3 (or top-4… or AT LEAST a top-5) catcher

Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann doesn’t show up on any leaderboards because he’s a handful of plate appearances short of qualification — off-season shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum sidelined him for the first couple of months of the season — but that doesn’t mean he a) doesn’t exist, and b) isn’t playing extremely well.

This is my very scholarly presentation titled “Brian McCann is having a monster year and I think he’s really great”. During my presentation I will say nothing. Zero words. I will instead let McCann’s statistics do the talking and prove my point for me.

Well, not quite. But here goes.

Statistics presented are current through August 3. All comparisons involve catchers who are relevant in standard-format fantasy leagues. Sorry, John Jaso. Your .387 OBP is not welcome here.

BA (batting average):

  1. Yadier Molina, .330
  2. Joe Mauer, .320
  3. Buster Posey, .308
  4. Brian McCann, .286

McCann is already in good company among his catching brethren, and his .285 BAbip suggests he’s back to form. Mauer and Poser hit for average perennially, so it’s no knock on McCann to be behind those guys. (Side note: Mauer’s batting average is just under his career mark while his wild .384 BAbip is 46 points higher than his career mark. It’s not insane for Mauer to bat .320, but that BAbip is crazy.)

OBP (on-base percentage):

  1. Joe Mauer, .402
  2. Buster Posey, .378
  3. Yadier Molina, .374
    Carlos Santana, .374
  4. Brian McCann, .372

The Minnesota Twins’ Joe Mauer and the San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey will lead this category perennially, and that’s part of what makes them so valuable. But McCann has kept pace with them and other touted catchers.

ISO (isolated power):

  1. Brian McCann, .256
  2. Evan Gattis, .249
  3. Jonathan Lucroy, .218

With the exception of El Oso Blanco (Atlanta Braves catcher Evan Gattis), who is probably not even human (because he’s a bear, right?), nobody else comes close to McCann’s isolated power. His power numbers are through the roof, albeit unsustainable, but he likely won’t fall off as severely as teammate Justin Upton did. McCann has hit 18 to 24 home runs in each year since 2006, though, including his dismal 2012 season, so the power is consistent and certainly not a fluke. He also sports a 25-percent line drive rate. Frankly, he’s crushing the ball.

(Let us take a moment to acknowledge the Milwaukee Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy. He didn’t get any preseason love from the so-called experts despite hitting .284 with 16 home runs in about half a season’s worth of at-bats last year.)

PA/HR (plate appearances per home run), where a smaller ratio is better:

  1. Brian McCann, 16.3 (read “one home run per 16.3 plate appearances”)
  2. Evan Gattis, 16.7
  3. J.P. Arencibia, 21.6

I sort of alluded to this, but again, it’s the Braves’ catchers leading the pack. Except did you really think McCann was hitting home runs more frequently than Gattis? Me neither. The Blue Jays’ J.P. Arencibia has pop and leads all MLB catchers with 17 home runs but comes at the steep price of a .214 batting average. Speaking of which…

Home runs:

  1. J.P. Arencibia, 17
  2. Brian McCann, 16
    Jonathan Lucroy, 16
  3. Matt Wieters, 15
    Evan Gattis, 15
    Wilin Rosario, 15

McCann hit as many home runs as Lucroy in 106 fewer plate appearances. With all this talk about power, let’s take a look at OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) and BRA (on-base percentage times slugging percentage, giving more weight to OBP). McCann leads in both categories (.914 and .202, respectively), meaning Mauer’s or Posey’s elevated OBP may not necessarily warrant the praise or favoritism it gets when valuing those players.

(R+RBI)/PA), or how many runs and RBI a player record per plate appearance, where a larger number is better:

  1. Evan Gattis, 0.299
  2. Brian McCann, 0.280
  3. Wilin Rosario, 0.274
  4. Yadier Molina, 0.256
    Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 0.256

This isn’t a fancy metric, just a simpler way to measure production frequency instead of breaking it up for each category (R and RBI). The number associated with each player may be difficult for some readers to process without a picture painted for them, so I’ll paint one. If McCann and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Yadier Molina each recorded exactly 500 plate appearances, McCann would produce 140 runs and RBI (think 70 R, 70 RBI) to Molina’s 128 (64 R, 64 RBI).

BB% (BB/PA, or walk percentage):

  1. Joe Mauer, 12.2%
  2. Russell Martin, 11.8%
  3. Brian McCann, 11.1%
  4. Miguel Montero, 10.9%

On top of this…

K/BB (ratio of strikeouts to walks), where a smaller number is better:

  1. Buster Posey, 1.26
  2. Carlos Santana, 1.34
  3. Brian McCann, 1.41
  4. Victor Martinez, 1.43

… McCann is third best in his strikeout rate relative to his walk rate.

Lastly — and perhaps most importantly — is WAR. Here’s how the WAR leaderboard for catchers looks according to FanGraphs:

  1. Yadier Molina, 4.3
  2. Joe Mauer, 4.2
  3. Buster Posey, 3.9
  4. Russell Martin, 3.6
  5. Jonathan Lucroy, 3.1
  6. Buster McCann, 2.9

… which aggregates not only offensive and but also defensive performance. Remember that McCann has about 60 percent of the plate appearances as other “full-time” catchers (and he’s already sixth in WAR — wow!). If I normalize each player’s WAR to, say, WAR per 100 plate appearances, the list now looks like this:

  1. Brian McCann, 1.11
  2. Yadier Molina, 1.10
  3. Russell Martin, 1.03
  4. Joe Mauer, 0.95
  5. Buster Posey, 0.93
  6. Jonathan Lucroy, 0.84

That’s right, folks. McCann has the best WAR relative to his playing time.

This concludes the bulk of my presentation. Brian McCann is indeed having a monster year. But is he a top-3 catcher?

I respect Tristan H. Cockcroft’s opinions on matters such as these, especially because he’s a genius. In his most recent Hit Parade column, he ranked McCann as the seventh-best catcher. There are a lot of factors at play, including Mauer’s and Posey’s high BAs and OBPs but offensively miserable lineups in which they are entrenched, Colorado Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario‘s poor plate discipline and Lucroy’s OBP that leaves something to be desired.

Since McCann’s first game (May 6)
Victor Martinez: .289 BA, .770 OPS, 8 HR, 39 R, 46 RBI, 26 XBH
Joe Mauer: .333 BA, .901 OPS, 6 HR, 40 R, 29 RBI, 31 XBH
Buster Posey: .314 BA, .869 OPS, 10 HR, 32 R, 40 RBI, 31 XBH
Brian McCann: .286 BA, .913 OPS, 16 HR, 29 R, 44 RBI, 26 XBH
Jonathan Lucroy: .307 BA, .916 OPS, 13 HR, 24 R, 42 RBI, 31 XBH
Wilin Rosario: .262 BA, .722 OPS, 8 HR, 29 R, 33 RBI, 21 XBH
Carlos Santana: .238 BA, .720 OPS, 6 HR, 31 R, 35 RBI, 25 XBH

Performance-wise, McCann is probably fourth-best of the list, although it’s very close. Are six home runs worth more than 28 points of batting average? Possibly. Ultimately, it’s a small sample size, and it’s not going to tell us a whole lot. But McCann has clearly outperformed Rosario or Santana, and all three of their career numbers indicate the trend will likely continue. I like McCann a lot going forward, based pretty heavily on the fact that he’s a part of a good offensive lineup. Mauer, Posey and Lucroy, not so much. And if McCann just steals even a couple of bases like he has done in the past, it will boost his value greatly relative to everyone else.

So yes, I will be bold and declare it: Brian McCann is a top-4 catcher! At least for the rest of the season. Or until Molina comes back. Geez, so many conditions. But if McCann can steal even just three bags, which Martinez has barely done cumulatively in 11 professional years, it will elevate McCann to the top 3. I love Lucroy, but I’m having a hard time not being a little bit skeptical. He rounds out the top 5.

One last bonus stat to bolster McCann’s case…

AB/HR, all MLB players (not limited to catchers):

  1. Chris Davis, 10.0
  2. Miguel Cabrera, 11.9
  3. Pedro Alvarez, 13.6
  4. Raul Ibanez, 13.8
  5. Edwin Encarnacion, 14.0
  6. Brian McCann, 14.2

WOWZA!!!

Oh, and for anyone who dismissed McCann’s .230 batting average and decline in production last year as his demise: sorry.

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