The past two seasons for James McCann have been nothing short of spectacular, as he went from a non-tendered player by the Detroit Tigers to an All-Star with the Chicago White Sox. And he followed up that 2019 campaign with another solid year in the shortened 2020 season.
While the offensive numbers might jump off the page more to the average fan, McCann said it himself that he prides himself on his defensive abilities behind the dish first and foremost. And one adjustment that he made in 2020 really put his game to the next level.
During his introductory news conference on Thursday, McCann went into detail about knowing how today’s game is adapting with analytics, and his position as catcher is no exception. Pop times and any old stats like those are now complemented with thorough analytics, and it’s something McCann found himself wanting to excel in because, well, he didn’t really know anything about it.
“I truly believe the catcher can impact the game tenfold defensively than it can offensively, especially over the course of the season,” he said. “I think especially in a day and age where everything is measured through a metric, through analytics, there’s one thing that we haven’t as a baseball community come up with is a value between a catcher and a pitcher.”
Breaking down those advanced stats, McCann found that his frame ratings weren’t the best. Catchers make it a point of emphasis to be a good receiver of the baseball so that strikes are called more often than not. It not only helps the umpire make the right call, but also helps the pitcher from time to time when a pitch is borderline ball or strike.
So McCann said he looked for outside help for the first time in his career to get someone else’s opinion on what he could do differently to change those percentages. Enter Red Sox bench coach Jerry Narron.
No, he wasn’t with the White Sox organization, but Narron – a former catcher himself – worked with McCann to fix him up before the start of the 2020 season. And McCann was kind of stunned by Narron’s answer on what he was doing wrong that led to poor framing.
“Through the previous years of my career, I never had a specific catching coach or anybody for that matter that could sit down and explain to me how the framing metrics worked, how those numbers came about, how everything created a score for each individual catcher,” McCann said.
“We worked for a little bit and the one thing that we talked about consistently was that it wasn’t my hands or my abilities that was holding me back. It was my setup.”
By setup, McCann was talking about how he would set up his feet and glove position before every pitch. It didn’t have anything to do with softer hands when receiving, or anything of that nature.
When the time came for the season to start, McCann clearly noticed a difference and the advanced stats reflected that. His overall strike rate when from 45 percent in 2019 to 51.4 percent in 2020. His framing on the corners of home plate were well above average and the low part of the strike zone saw the biggest leap at 61.8 strike percentage versus 44.1 in 2019. In fact, all of his low zones on the left and right sides of the plate took a big jump.
The Mets have been searching for a catcher like McCann for a long time – someone that is defense first but can also make an impact with the lumber. And they’ve seemed to find someone who is constantly trying to get better in both areas of his game, which has to be music to the pitching staff’s ears.
Narron won’t be helping McCann out in person this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic still a big concern, but they stay in contact. McCann will just continue working on his craft and the Mets will hope those framing numbers get even better in 2021.