Brian McCann: No Sure Thing

Brian McCann was as consistent as they come until last season. At a generally weak position, McCann’s solid batting average and above-average power numbers led him to finish at the top of catcher rankings for six straight seasons. Owners expected more of the same in 2012. That streak of success came to a screeching halt last year. McCann still managed to hit 20 home runs, but his .230/.300/.399 batting line was easily the worst of his career. Near the midpoint of the season, it was revealed McCann had been dealing with an injured shoulder. The injury would linger the remainder of the season, causing McCann do receive cortisone shots just to stay in the lineup. At season’s end, he revealed that he would have surgery, possibly causing him to miss time early on next season. For the first time in his career, McCann carries a lot of risk.

Looking at McCann’s monthly splits, there are some major changes that show why McCann had a down year. His K% jumped dramatically in June. McCann starting striking out in 20.3% of his plate appearances. His batting line during that month dropped to .193/.245/.330. Those June numbers were attributed to a miserable slump, and McCann reportedly altered his mechanics around that time. The result was almost instant. McCann murdered the ball in July, hitting .296/.354/.704 with 9 home runs. Just as he was starting to round to form, his shoulder started giving him problems. The issues started in Late-July, and his stats went into a tailspin. McCann hit just .181/.280/.181 in August, and didn’t get much better in September, hitting .226/.279/.355.

There’s a good chance the shoulder surgery could cause McCann to miss some time next season. Initial reports had McCann’s time-table at four-to-five months. That would cause him to miss some of spring training. And if things don’t go perfectly, it’s easy to see how his rehab could stretch into the regular season.

Once he returns, he might run into some problems. Players who have recently undergone shoulder surgeries typically have a hard time putting up big numbers. Thanks to our good friend Jeff Zimmerman, I looked at the players who had shoulder surgery in recent years. The results are pretty ugly.

Shoulder Surgeries Result
Jason Kendall Missed entire 2011 season
Diory Hernandez Hit .201/.229/.308 in AAA
Geovany Soto Numbers dropped to .228/.310/.411
Freddy Sanchez Sidelined until June recovering. Back injury ended his 2012 season in July.
Daric Barton Hit .204/.338/.292 in 136 PAs with A’s
J.D. Drew Did not play in 2012. May have retired.

That chart is far from perfect. It’s not a huge sample size, for one. But you’ll also notice that none of those players are as good as McCann. Kendall and Drew were nearing the end of their careers, so decline had something to do with their performances following surgery. We actually don’t know how Drew would have done, since he didn’t play in 2012. Hernandez was never considered a strong player, either. The three effective players on the list, Barton, Sanchez and Soto have all experienced success in the majors. Barton and Soto look broken now, and we’ll see if Sanchez can make it back from multiple surgeries.

All injuries are different, of course, and just because some recent players struggled to come back doesn’t mean McCann will too. But the recent track record doesn’t inspire much confidence. Shoulder injuries can be devastating for hitters. While McCann has been the epitome of consistent throughout his career, he’s looking at some serious problems next season. Even when he returns, there’s no guarantee he’ll produce. Unless he has a miraculous recovery during the offseason, you might be better off letting another owner take a shot on McCann next season. Suddenly, he comes with a whole lot of risk.

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Chris is a blogger for He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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Dropping him as a keeper for next year. It was a great run the last few seasons but I’ll let someone else roll the dice.