Thursday, April 24, 2014

McCann Heating Up As He Adjusts To The Shift

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

It isn't drawing the attention of Yangervis Solarte's hot start or Carlos Beltran's splendid all-around hitting performance, but Brian McCann has been coming around lately and his stat line is starting to creep up above the line of respectability.  After last night, he's now sitting at .261/.292/.420 with 3 HR, 10 R, and 9 RBI, good for a .314 wOBA.  His early bout with selectivity issues appears to over, his swing rates are trending down, and he's starting to settle into his new AL surroundings.

Another thing he's settling into is being a constant target of the defensive shift.  McCann has been one of, if not the most shifted against hitter in the Yankee lineup and it's fair to suggest that he's lost out on a hit or 2 as a result of it.  Seeing how opposing defenses are approaching him, McCann appears to be adapting his hitting approach in response.

There's Big Mac's spray chart for his first 10 games.  There's a noticeable concentration of balls hit either back up the middle or pulled to the shift side.  Look at those 3 outs in short right-center field.  Those are hits if the shift isn't place, but it was and McCann got burned by it.  He hit just .162 in those first 10 games (6-37) with no XBH, 1 BB, and 6 K, a SSS statistical profile of a guy snakebitten by the shift and his old hitting approach.

That's his last 9 games.  There aren't nearly as many balls hit (or outs) to the right side and a clear majority of balls being hit the other way to left field.  There's still some pull in there, most notably the 3 HR  he's hit in his last 9 games, but that BIP distribution is strongly indicative of a hitter intentionally trying to hit the ball the other way most of the time and it's worked to McCann's advantage.  He's hitting .375 in those 9 games (12-32) with 5 XBH, 2 BB, and only 2 K.

For all the times I've lamented Mark Teixeira's stubborn refusal to try to hit the ball to left more regularly to beat the shift, it's great to see McCann take to that strategy so quickly.  It's even better to see him have such success doing it.  There's nothing wrong with hitting a single to left field if the defense is going to give it to you.  McCann's bread and butter is always going to be his pull power, he knows that.  He seems to be more selective about when he's playing to that though, and it's working.  If pitchers give him something in his kitchen he knows he can drive, he's driving it to right.  If they don't and try to pitch him to hit into the shift, he changes it up and goes the other way.

The more McCann continues this 2-pronged hitting approach, the more he's going to force teams to rethink their shift strategy against him.  In the long run, this could help him get back to seeing more pitches to pull for power and that would be a very good thing.

(Spray charts courtesy of Texas Leaguers)

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