There is no denying that James McCann has had a career resurgence with the White Sox. This past offseason, McCann was non-tendered (declined a contract, resulting in immediate release) by Central Division opponent and owners of the worst record in the MLB through August 18th, the Detroit Tigers. Even with how bad the Tigers are, this move was justified. Across five seasons and 1658 plate appearances with Detroit, McCann produced a .653 OPS, which is considered below-average. With the large sample size and downward-trending production (his 2018 OPS was a mere .581), no one seemed to bat an eye when the White Sox inked him to a deal. Many people even thought that he would be a candidate for a mid-season DFA or trade for a few cases of soda for the clubhouse (shout out Billy Beane) once Zack Collins or Seby Zavala stuck at the major league level. Fast-forward to the middle of August: McCann was selected to the All-Star Game and both Collins and Zavala are in AAA after brief stints in the majors. Who would’ve thought?
While McCann has had a surprising season, it hasn’t necessarily been perfect. He began the season scorching hot, with a first-half slash line of .316/.371/.502 with nine home runs. Based on his aforementioned career statistics, he was a candidate to undergo some regression in the second half. The was certainly the case in July for McCann, who had an abysmal .520 OPS and 35 strikeouts across 20 games. A big reason for these struggles stemmed from McCann straying away from the approach that made him so successful in the first half, which was using all fields and not trying to do too much.
Here are some videos of McCann successfully handling outside pitches in the beginning of the season, including a single in the All-Star game:
These are good pitches that would result in weak ground outs to the left side of the field if McCann tried to pull them. Based on his season spray chart from FanGraphs, ground outs to the left side of the infield are in fact the culprit of most of the outs that he makes and were incredibly common during his slump.
These other clips are from games in July. While they may not tell the full story of his struggles, it is clear that these are pretty much the same pitches that he crushed to right field in the first half. Unless your name is Mike Trout, it is insanely hard to pull these pitches and have consistent success while doing so. Everybody else will do exactly what McCann did in these videos and share similar struggles.
McCann has seemingly addressed these struggles, however, and is on pace to have his best month of the season. Through only 14 games played in August, he has an OPS of 1.046 with two home runs, both of which were grand slams, and 16 runs batted in. For his first grand slam of the month against the Astros, McCann took an 0-2 pitch on the outer third of the plate to the opposite field and didn’t try to do too much with it. To no surprise, he was successful due to using the approach that worked for him during the first half of the season.
This is a promising sign for McCann, who will most certainly be a candidate to have his option picked up this offseason by the White Sox in what is turning out to be one of the better pickups of last year’s offseason.
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