The immediate thought was “bust” after the 2014 season.

Maybe because it was the New York Yankees paying out the contract and were already in the process of paying out a few others that could be labeled in a similar way—Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran. It could have been that the player was starting a huge long-term contract shortly after his 30th birthday.

But most of all, it was Brian McCann’s numbers. All of them, from the five years and $85 million on his deal to his .232/.286/.406 slash line and .692 OPS. All were below 2014 American League averages except for his .406 slugging percentage, and they all shouted McCann’s could be another fat contract the Yankees would regret agreeing to.

There was even the belief that McCann, a heavy-hitting catcher from Athens, Georgia, could not handle playing under the hot spotlights in New York.

“New York is not Brian. That’s my opinion,” Terry Pendleton, McCann’s former hitting coach with the Atlanta Braves, told the New York Post‘s Dan Martin about a year ago as McCann struggled in his first season with the Yankees. “I knew if he chose New York, there would be more than he expected or knew about. He’ll never be comfortable with that.

“If I had to choose where he went, nothing against the Yankees, they’re one of the best organizations around,” Pendleton added, “but I think he’d be more comfortable in Texas.”

That was a strong opinion and made national news last July. But a calendar year later, the outlook on McCann has drastically changed.

McCann is fourth among catchers in American League All-Star balloting, but he is more than six million votes behind Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez, so he has no chance to start. But that McCann had nine home runs, 39 RBI and a .264/.324/.473 line through Sunday means he could be a reserve. His .796 OPS, .342 weighted on-base average (wOBA), 118 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) and 1.6 WAR in the same time frame were all better than Perez, according to Fangraphs.

That WAR also is second on the Yankees among position players.

McCann making an All-Star team would be a nice accolade. More important than his candidacy, though, is that his offensive numbers are playing a critical role in the Yankees being at or around the top of the AL East standings all season.

McCann was mostly healthy last year—he missed six games because of a concussion and two with a sore foot—so his poor production was baffling, especially when you consider he averaged an .827 OPS, 119 OPS+ and 21 home runs for the Braves in the previous eight seasons, according to Baseball-Reference. He also made seven All-Star teams in that time.

Last season was bad overall, but it was particularly bad in the second half. Despite 12 home runs in August and September giving him a respectable season total of 23, McCann hit .219 in August and .222 in September. His OBPs were .282 and .281, respectively. His power and ability to handle the pitching staff were the only things that justified keeping him in the lineup, because he was mostly bad in every other offensive aspect.

This season there is no such concern about McCann’s offensive abilities. The home runs are still there as he’s taken advantage of his left-handed swing and Yankee Stadium’s short right-field fence, with seven of his nine homers coming at home, and all of them having been pull shots, via ESPN Home Run Tracker.

He’s been the team’s best hitter at home. His .464 wOBA and 201 wRC+ lead the team at Yankee Stadium, as do his .414 OBP and .696 OPS through Sunday.

“It’s one of the big reasons we went and got him, because we thought his swing was built for this ballpark,” manager Joe Girardi told the New York Post‘s Howie Kussoy. “It’s shown up.”

McCann himself understands the importance of taking advantage of his surroundings.

“It sets up good for my swing. It’s nice hitting here,” McCann told Kussoy. “When you’re hitting top of the rotation starters, that’s what good teams do.”

McCann has been a bit luckier this season, his BABIP rising by 48 points proving as much. Aside from that, making slightly less soft contact and taking more strikes, which has led to a nearly 4 percent strikeout increase, there is not a lot to tell us why McCann has been a better hitter.

As long as it continues to happen, McCann will no longer be viewed as another of the Yankees’ busted acquisitions, and the better their chances to return to the postseason for the first time since 2012.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired first-hand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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