February 20, 2013 at 4:00 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
I suppose having 3 off-days through April 15th makes losing McCann a little easier. The Braves will play 12 games by the projected comeback date, but Interleague Play unfortunately doesn’t help as I had hoped as the Royals come to Atlanta on McCann’s supposed return. It would have been nice to go to Kansas City and bring McCann back as a DH for a few games, but there’s nothing we can do about that. Regardless of the small details, one has to wonder if he’ll even be back by then. We certainly hope he comes back as expected, but considering major injuries often have setbacks (especially as the player begins ramping things up), he might not make it back by then. We’ll just have to wait and see with that. But knowing that he’ll be out for a period of time, what can we expect from Braves catchers in 2013?
Let’s first take a look at Brian McCann. Over his 7+ seasons, he’s basically averaged 4 wins a season with a career line of .279/.351/.475 (.354 wOBA, 116 wRC+), and considering the averages for catchers over the past few seasons have been .246/.317/.395, .310 (wOBA), and 92 (wRC+), it’s easy to see how McCann has been an extremely valuable offensive player in his career. Better yet, McCann has often received strong marks for his defense due to his ability to frame pitches, though his reputation as a defensive catcher has never been strong.
The shoulder surgery and time off, of course, are likely to hurt his value in 2013 (at least on an overall basis). If he comes back by the 15th, he’ll miss half a month or 1/12 of the season, and if he comes back May 1st, he’ll miss one month or 1/6 of the season. Given the two week scenario, McCann would lose about 8% of his value, which leaves him with 3.7 wins. Taking the month scenario, McCann loses 17% of his value, which leaves him with 3.3 wins. Because of the injury, the Braves are likely to be more cautious with him once he returns, which may mean a loss of 5-10 more games simply due to limiting his workload. Even if we take a conservative approach of 10 more games, he’d lose about 0.3 more wins, leaving the team with 3.4 or 3.0 wins.
Next, we have to think about his quality of play once he returns as he may not play at that 4-win level. Will the surgery make everything better, and will the healing restore the old McCann? If you think so, a 3-win catcher is about what one could expect from McCann. If you expect things to be a bit rough as he recovers from shoulder surgery, last season’s 2 wins (.230/.300/.399) in 121 games seems reasonable. So basically we’re looking at 120ish games with 2-3 wins of value. Projections on McCann are bit more optimistic, but none of them “know” McCann suffered a shoulder surgery (projections are awesome things, but they’re meant for average siuations and can lose some details of context). Shoulders (ball-and-socket joints) are harder to correct because they are more complex than elbows or knees (hinge joints). There is, of course, a non-negligible chance that McCann’s shoulder is completely shot, but we’ll have to wait for more information before we go there.
McCann only played in 121 games last season, so using David Ross’ playing time from last year, we should expect the 200 PA to be taken by someone else. Gerald Laird is the man who will likely fill most of those batter’s boxes. Over the past two seasons, he’s hit a combined .264/.324/.368 (.303 wOBA, 89 wRC+) and has been worth a total of 1 win in 300 PA. Looking at that over 200 PA, Laird should be worth about half a win, which could fluctuate either way due to BABiP, luck, defense against, aging, etc. Ross, of course, was worth 1.5 wins in those plate appearances, so the team is losing some value there. What we’re looking at here is about 2.5-3.5 wins from McCann and Laird.
I suppose you also want to know who the backup backup catcher will be and how he’ll play. The only thing I can tell you is that he won’t play much. Over the 26 games in the first month, he’ll probably play 5-6, and if it’s only 2 weeks, he’ll play 2-3. So whether it’s Matt Pagnozzi, Evan Gattis, Christian Bethancourt, Matt Kennelly, Shawn McGill, or some other dude, it’s not likely to make a lot of difference (Boscan was replacement level last season). If they do have to play an extended period of time because McCann’s injury is worse or (deity forbid) Laird also gets hurt, I’d imagine that trading for one of the myriad of catchers being bounced around this off-season on waiver wires might be a decent trade option. I wouldn’t expect this current contingent to be the answer there. But as for now, we are going to assume McCann’s shoulder recovers nearly on schedule, and if it does, the third catcher isn’t likely to play much of a role.
During the 2012 season, the combination of McCann, Ross, and JC Boscan produced 3.5 wins. Given a healthier, stronger McCann, McCann could reach that all by himself, but even if he isn’t quite back to that form (and 4 per 600 PA is on the lower side of what a healthy McCann is capable), the new combo of McCann/Laird/whoever is likely to be within a win of that number. A 3-win catching duo isn’t the 5.5 wins from 2011 or the incredible 7.1 from 2010, but it remains above-average. Shoulder injuries (and injuries in general) can be scary things. How McCann will react and perform is still to be determined, but for the moment, the catching situation isn’t all that bad, even if it doesn’t have a high upside. We have about 2 months until we know more, and if needed, we may have to revisit this later. For the moment, the strategy seems to be to hope for the best because the team probably would have added someone else if they expected worse.