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Braves 2010 Season in Review: Brian McCann

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When production comes consistently, the hardware will follow.  2010 All-Star Game MVP, Brian McCann.
When production comes consistently, the hardware will follow. 2010 All-Star Game MVP, Brian McCann.

Opinion vs. Fact is typically an interesting debate, especially when one can easily contradict and debunk the other.  Popular opinion is that Brian McCann had a great year; once again, he hit 20+ home runs, made the All-Star team for the fifth year in a row, won the All-Star Game's MVP, leading the National League to their first ASG win in forever, and one joyous occasion, of hitting his first career walk-off homer.  But then when looking back at the statistics, or facts, then Brian McCann's 2010 campaign, was well, pedestrian, in comparison to some of the years Heap has had previously.

Not to say that it was a complete bust of a year for our lovable starting catcher; as R.J. Anderson of FanGraphs best puts it:

"It's the Albert Pujols' syndrome. He's so good annually that sometimes we take the performances for granted."

Brian McCann's been so good throughout his entire career with the Braves that simply above average numbers for him, might sometimes seem a little too mediocre, in comparison.  But I'll let you guys be the judge, and it doesn't change the fact that I still love the player tons.

The Good: 

McCann's walk rate, which throughout his career prior to 2010 was at 8.4%, but he displayed a good deal of more patience this season with a career best, 13.1% BB%74 walks is a new career high for Heap, and even if you took away the 10 intentionals, 64 is still better than any of his five prior seasons.  Subsequently, he enjoyed the second-best on-base percentage of his career at .375 OBP.  And as mentioned above, Brian McCann clubbed out 21 homers, marking the third consecutive year, and fourth in five seasons in which he's crossed the 20 HR plateau.  And defensively, as much as is made out of McCann's occasional sailing throw into the outfield, Heap actually improved dramatically, catching would-be thieves.  He averaged a 23% CS percentage in his first four full seasons, but in 2010, he improved to the tune of 43% CS%.  Maybe next year, runners will have to think twice more often.

The Bad

Heap's batting average (.269), slugging (.453), and overall OPS (.828) were all down from his previous season, and down in comparison to his career averages.  Despite his improved ability to draw walks, Heap still set a career high in strikeouts with 98 Ks, en route to a career high K% of 15.3%.  Despite managing 21 homers, just 25 doubles reflects in a little diminished power with a .184 ISO, and he was a hair unluckier than he's been in the past, with a .297 BABIP.  And for a guy who had averaged 91 RBI per full season, Heap's 77 RIBz in 2010 seems kind of lameduck in comparison to his past self.

Naturally, when the negative is brought to attention, we typically want to know why there was a drop off.  From what I can tell, one of the biggest factors in Heap's spike in strikeouts in 2010 is simply how pitchers have been pitching him.  Throughout his career, pitchers have typically thrown pitches in the strike zone roughly 48% of the time.  2010 saw a lower 41% of pitches being thrown into the strike zone, which correlates with his reduction in contact% (80.3% vs. 83.6% average), which lead to the increase in walks, and the occasional chase, which led to a career high 8.6% swinging strike%, hence the Ks.  And apparently, pitchers have decided to stop throwing McCann curveballs, as indicative of the 8.6% of curveballs thrown at him, which is the lowest since his rookie year.

One observation I've had throughout the last few seasons was the unfortunate noticing of Brian McCann's production as the seasons progress.  Simply put, Heap has a tendency to run out of gas towards the end of the year, on an annual basis.  And 2010 was worse than his averages.

First Half (2010)          First Half (Career)
.267/.380/.447             .293/.370/.491

Second Half (2010)    Second Half (Career)
.272/.368/.460             .285/.349/.487

He actually got "better" the second half this past year, but that's mostly because his first half was that much more unimpressive in comparison to his typical averages.

And even more alarming is the Sept/Oct "month":

Sept/Oct (2010)           Sept/Oct (Career)
.221/.318/.326             .273/.336/.438

Looking at the monthly breakdown, it's very safe to say as the temperature gets hotter, so does Brian McCann, but as it cools off, so does Brian McCann.

This is the one facet of Brian McCann's career that bothers me the most, and I hypothesize at what could be done about it.  It's tiresome to hear the debates about why Joe Mauer is a better catcher than Brian McCann, and although personally I barely believe it to be true . . . barely, I say, I'm also not going to ignore the fact that Joe Mauer has had the luxury of DHing from time to time, to save on the wear and grind that the catcher position entails.  Food for thought: Since arriving to the show in 2004, Joe Mauer has 699 games in his career, 107 in 2010, playing catcher.  106 games as a DH.  Since arriving in 2005, Brian McCann has 698 games in his career, and 131 in 2010 at catcher.

Additionally, I question McCann's overall physical stamina.  As I said above, I love Heap to death, but let's not fool ourselves here - Brian McCann hasn't gotten any smaller since being called up.  2005 vs. present.  He's gained a noticeable amount of weight over the last five years, and I can only once recall reading about him being ITBSOHL, the one off-season where he picked up daily jogging.  As talented he is with the bat, we'll never hear stories about how he's an "athletic catcher," and as much delight all of us, Chipper Jones, and the fans in attendance were brought when Brian McCann hit his first triple, wouldn't it have been nicer if the obvious factors didn't make it such an occasion?

But regardless of the semantics, what we have in the end is The Obvious Overall:

Despite a mediocre season in terms of Brian McCann standards, it was still an above-average year for an individual player on a baseball team.  McCann's average WPA throughout the season was +0.235 WPA, which was third on the team behind Jason Heyward and Chipper Jones.  FanGraphs also awards Heap +5.3 WAR (11th overall, NL), which is roughly worth $21.3M in 2010.  Not bad for a guy who only made $5.66M.

As a fan, there are three golden moments that stand out for me as it pertains to Brian McCann: the above mentioned ASG bases-clearing double which won it for the NL, and got him the MVP award, which had me screaming at my big screen yelling "HEAAAAAAAP!" until my face was blue.  Brian McCann's first ever walk-off homer, off of Leo Nunez, which capped the wild finish where the Braves hung six runs on the Marlins in the final two innings, but also required umpire review, because it ricocheted off of the confusing double outfield wall of Turner Field, and seeing the typically stoic Tim McClelland jogging back onto the field with a smirk on his face, and giving Brian McCann the sign for the DDT which you non-wrestling fans better recognize as the home run call, and watching Heap complete his jog around third and home, where the rest of the team was waiting.  And then, there was the home run in the NLDS game 4 off of Madison Bumgarner, which gave the Braves a lead, that unfortunately didn't last, but at least for the next few innings, hope and good times were alive and prevalent.

Next Year:

There is absolutely no reason to not be optimistic about Brian McCann going into 2011.  Until proven otherwise by a stretch of comparably high-production, all-star seasons from another catcher, the crown of the National League's best, easily remains with Brian McCann.  He's pretty much a lock for another 20+ homers, and if he hopefully gets his batting line, RIBz, and power back up to par, but also maintain the outstanding patience he showed in 2010, he will be a veritable force in 2011.  He'll be entering the fifth year of a 6/$27M deal, so no worries about free agency just yet.

The only thing that could possibly affect Heap, aside from obvious injury, going into 2011, is fatherhood - if you didn't know, Brian McCann and his wife are expecting their first child in February.  Be sure to congratulate him if you're going to Spring Training, or when you see him during the season.