The New York Mets opted for the cheaper option last offseason when they opted to sign James McCann instead of J.T. Realmuto. McCann signed with the Mets for four years at $40.6 million while Realmuto inked a five-year, $115.5 million deal with the rival Philadelphia Phillies. These were the best two catching options in free agency, but McCann lagged behind Realmuto in 2021.
— MLB (@MLB) September 12, 2021
McCann was such an intriguing addition because of his emerging hitting metrics, which showed increased exit velocity and launch angle, which was not present early in his career. He seemed like a much better option than Wilson Ramos but was more of the same. McCann had an extremely slow start as his average hovered around the Mendoza line through the end of May.
When June rolled around, he put together his best offensive month by hitting .288/.341/.500 with four home runs and 16 runs batted in. McCann never carried the momentum to the second half of the season and finished was a slash line of .232/.294/.349 in 121 games. These numbers would be no surprise the Mets signed the Detroit Tigers version of McCann, but they invested in the Chicago White Sox version.
In Chicago, McCann became a hitter known for his increased hard-hit rate and launch angle. While the hard-hit remained similar, his launch angle fell dramatically. McCann’s launch angle dropped from 15 degrees in 2020 to just 9.3 in the 2021 season. This resulted in his 51.7% groundball rate, the highest of his career, and grounding into 12 double plays. McCann’s hard-hit groundballs combined with his lack of speed make it impossible for him to be a steady hitter.
Defensive Steps Back
McCann was solid behind the plate but was not as good as advertised. He threw out a career-low 27% of base stealers, but the Mets expected more since his career rate was in the mid-30s. Pitch framing was below average at -3 runs extra strikes and a 47.9% strike rate. The reason for the drop-off from 2020 was McCann’s inability to frame pitches low in the zone. From inside to outside to a right-handed batter, he had a percentage of 38.1%/61.8%/31.3% last season. In 2021, McCann fell to 24%/51.6%/29.9%, and we would often see him give up on the lower pitches as the season moved forward.
The biggest concern for McCann was his inability to hit high velocity after making a name off it during last season. He hit .245 with a .371 slugging percentage off fastballs this season after hitting .326 with a .478 slugging the previous year. McCann often struggled with his timing at the plate and never looked comfortable at any point.
He should bounce back fine defensively, but the bat is a significant question mark heading into 2022. McCann is heading into his age-32 season at a position where regressions steadily decline at his age. He was never a factor on offense and is heading into a critical year in year two of his deal.
Catching prospect Francisco Alvarez is a projected 2023 debut and is quickly on his way to becoming big-league ready. Should each of them continue to move in opposite directions, we could discuss Alvarez as the opening day catcher in 2023. Tomas Nido is a present member of the Mets roster who is on McCann’s heels to take away playing time. Nido had a few stretches where he earned playing time over the struggling McCann.
2021 Grades On 20-80 Scale (2022 Projection)
Hitting:Â 30 (35), .232 average is eight points lower than his average during five years in Detroit.
Power:Â 25 (35), The power numbers are more likely to return than the average.
Run:Â 20 (20), 26.7 sprint speed was a 0.6 increase from 2020.
Arm:Â 40 (50), 1 rSB and his 27% CS will improve in 2022.
Field:Â 30 (45), -5 DRS, and eight passed balls were the second-highest of his career.
Overall:Â 30 (40), Even as a Tiger, McCann was a better player than he showed in 2021.