(Courtesy of Getty Images)
Despite spending more than a few bucks to upgrade the offense this past offseason, the Yankees have been slow to see any fruit from their free agent labor. They've scored 29 runs in their first 8 games, good for 18th in MLB, and their 3 HR are still just enough to keep them out of the basement in that category and tied for 29th. The biggest reason for this sputtering offensive start is the lack of production from the middle of the order. Mark Teixeira hit the DL before he even got going, Alfonso Soriano is just now starting to find his stroke after a rusty start, and both Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann are sporting sub-.500 OPS values in 60 combined plate appearances.
Obviously there's going to be improvement from all 4 of these guys as the season progresses, everybody gets settled in, and Teix gets healthy again. But in looking at McCann's rough start, the roughest of all at .172/.200/.172, there could be a pretty simple explanation and an easy fix.
That is McCann's spray chart for the 7 games he's played. Nothing really stands out as far as BIP location. He's pulling a fair amount of balls to the right side, which he should do as a lefty power hitter, he's hitting balls back up the middle, and he's going the other way regularly. The fact that he's got just as many hits to left field as he does to right tells me there's nothing wrong mechanically with his swing or his approach at the plate. Factor in his contact splits and the approach/swing problem possibility becomes even less likely. McCann's got a 24.0% LD/36.0% GB/40.0% FB split right now, which isn't that far off his 20.0/37.6/42.4 career breakdown and is actually a little better. The guy isn't making bad contact on the pitches he's swinging at, and he really isn't swinging at a lot of bad pitches and expanding his strike zone too much:
What he is doing is swinging at more pitches. A lot more of them. According to FanGraphs, McCann has swung at 55.5% of the pitches he's seen in his 30 PA. That's over 10% more than his career average and it includes a 37.7% swing rate on pitches out of the strike zone that's exactly 10% greater than his O-Swing rate from last year and a 69.7% swing rate on pitches in the zone that's almost 12% greater than his Z-Swing rate from last year. McCann also has a 10.0% whiff rate right now, which would be a new career high for him if the season ended today.
McCann averaged between 3.92 and 4.05 pitches per PA from 2011-2013 and he's right in that window again in 2014 with exactly 4.00 pitches/PA (120 pitches). It's not like he's up there being completely impatient and swinging early and often in the count every time. But when you're swinging at that many more pitches than usual and missing that many more pitches than usual, you're probably not going to see the BIP results you want to see. Just because a pitch is in the strike zone doesn't necessarily mean it's a good pitch to hit and McCann can probably help himself out of this early slump by improving his selectivity. Take a few more pitches on the corners, test the ump's zone and the pitcher's command, and set yourself up for a more favorable hitter's pitch in a more favorable hitter's count. Hey, maybe even take a BB every now and then. 1 free pass in 30 trips is well below McCann's career 9.5% BB rate.
There's definitely some plain old bad luck involved here too. A .200 BABIP with the kind of contact splits and spray chart McCann has is proof of that, and there's always a higher likelihood of luck factoring in when you're dealing with small sample sizes. There's no denying that McCann is being noticeably more aggressive at the plate though. Swinging at more pitches than he ever has isn't helping him any and he could stand to slow things down a bit. An increase in selectivity at the plate and more swings at better hitter's pitches should help to turn that luck around.
(Charts courtesy of Texas Leaguers)