Ever since James McCann has been slotted into the cleanup hitter role, “McCann Mania” seems to be in full fledge, well, as much as you could expect a mania for a serviceable (not great) major league catcher can be. Stoking the fire, other White Sox blogs and even major media outlets are hopping on the James McCann Train, which is one that looks like a great way to travel, but I caution you, once on board you’ll realize it isn’t as comfortable and nowhere near as luxurious as the pamphlet you were handed by some guy in Lot B made it out to be.
On the front cover, you’ll see a sparkling .357 BA and a .936 OPS that says “This guy is mashing right now.” You’ll almost be completely sold when you see that McCann has already been good for .8 bWAR so far in this 2019 season, tying him with Leury Garcia and Tim Anderson, who are only behind Yoan Moncada (.9 bWAR) in the lead for White Sox position players. You will think to yourself for a minute, “Tim Anderson is practically reaching star status and this guy has a slightly higher OBP and the same bWAR, I need to get on this train.”
Remember back when you were young and were told to never judge a book by the cover? This is one of those times where just a little bit of extra research about what you’re buying into could save you. So let’s dig in, shall we?
When thinking of a prototypical fourth hitter in a lineup, I think of someone that can hit dingers, drive in runs, and not leave runners stranded on base. In fact, the fourth spot in the lineup is called “cleanup” because it’s traditionally the guy that “cleans the basepaths” by driving everyone home. While RBIs may not be the go to stat for determining how well a player is doing, run production is important. When judging a middle of the order bat, I think it’s a fair assessment when also factoring in a player’s BA and OBP in the given situation.
Here is James McCann’s season so far with runners in scoring position, bases empty, and men on base.
Immediately jumping of the page is McCann’s insane .464 batting average with the bases empty, compared to a more expected .250 with men on base. The troubling part comes when you see he is only hitting .154 with runners in scoring position. In 13 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, McCann has struck out seven times, while he has only whiffed three times in 31 plate appearances with the bases empty. Something doesn’t quite add up there. As we like to say, that’s “Not great, Bob!”
Lineup construction is important to winning ballgames, and while the White Sox are winning these games with McCann hitting fourth in the order, a deeper look at the evidence shows McCann has little part in being an effective cleanup guy. Here is a look at runners left on base (LOB) vs. RBI over the last set of games while McCann was hitting 4th in the order:
4/24 – 2 LOB, 0 RBI
4/26 – 2 LOB, 0 RBI
4/28 – 5 LOB, 0 RBI
4/29 – 2 LOB, 0 RBI
Some will point to a dazzling .444 BA from the four spot so far in the four games since he’s been slotted there…
but the track record so far this season with runners on base isn’t as convincing. The fact of the matter is that while he is hitting the ball well, he’s just not driving in runs. It’s easy to get excited about a .300+ batting average, and there is no denying you have to be seeing the ball well to attain those numbers. However, this looks more like a hot stretch than someone who has “figured it out” and will go from a career .250 hitter to a .300 guy.
For the sake of the White Sox, let’s hope his bat stays hot. Let’s hope he starts driving in some runs, and let’s hope he makes this train something that everyone, including other major league teams, wants to buy a ticket to ride on. If he becomes a tradable asset instead of a DFA-able one, this was a great signing. Personally, I’m not buying it, but here’s to hope. As they say “fool me once… shame on you, fool me twice…”
Featured Photo: USA Today