The New York Yankees might play in a homer heaven, with casual onlookers figuring that every hitter who plays there experiences an equal boost in power production, but in the five years since new Yankee Stadium opened, the Yankees seem to have mastered the art of finding hitters who can exploit the ballpark's dimensions.
What they've discovered: Lefty pull power plays brilliantly there.
And this is precisely what the Yankees got when they signed catcher Brian McCann to a reported five-year, $85 million contract (including a vesting option for 2019), according to ESPNNewYork.com's Andrew Marchand. McCann, a left-handed hitter, has been one of baseball's most extreme pull power hitters during his career, but particularly so as he has moved closer to his 30th birthday.
In the past three seasons combined, McCann has hit 52 home runs to right field, the seventh-highest total in the majors. Three of the players ahead of him, Curtis Granderson (79, first), Robinson Cano (59, tied for fourth) and Raul Ibanez (59, tied for fourth), were also left-handed hitters who during at least one of those three seasons called Yankee Stadium his home. In the past five years, McCann has pulled 88 of his 106 home runs to right field.
McCann has pulled the ball nearly 50 percent of the time in the past two years combined, and he's sure to approach or exceed that number again in 2014, knowing that Yankee Stadium's right-field foul pole stands a scant 314 feet from home plate, and that its right-field fence measurements range anywhere from 353 to 362 feet. He wouldn't be the first player to adapt his swing somewhat to take aim at the venue's short porch; Granderson and Mark Teixeira were two other Yankee imports who, while always natural pull hitters, made small adjustments to capitalize.
Granderson and Teixeira make wise comparisons for two reasons: They were quite successful sluggers in their first few years in pinstripes, though at the same time they forfeited a handful of points from their batting averages as a result of the tweaks. McCann could go that route; he might break his old career high of 24 home runs (2006 and 2011), perhaps even approaching 30, but as a result might actually see his .256 batting average of 2013 drop.
The sum, however, would still earn McCann a couple spots in the fantasy catcher rankings -- as he did in mine, moving up two spots to ninth -- as 25-plus-homer potential is quite an asset from the position, regardless of the batting average behind it. After all, on only 10 instances since 2000 did a catcher exceed 25 home runs.
McCann also gains quite a bit in the overall ranks, moving from 213th to 177th, as the move to New York clearly vaults him into the starter's class in ESPN standard leagues (those are 10-team formats with one catcher spot). It also grants him the luxury of a designated-hitter spot, in which he might be used on occasion to keep him fresh as additional playing time above his catcher duties.
That's not to say McCann's signing presents a dream scenario, merely a significantly improved one. He is, after all, set to turn 30 in February and has logged many games (1,026) and innings (8,820 1/3) behind the plate. As he has aged, he has also widened his platoon split; left-handers limited him to .231/.279/.337 rates in 2013. The Yankees would be wise to sit him for Chris Stewart or Austin Romine when a left-hander is the opponent's starter rather than to arrange "personal catcher" situations between McCann and his backup, as it'd help McCann's production.
Yankees pitchers, too, might suffer somewhat as a result of McCann's weaker arm, which could bring back memories of comparably weak-armed Jorge Posada's later days. McCann has thrown out just 24 percent of opposing base stealers in his career, and 24 percent in 2013 alone. Keep that in mind should the Yankees sign a free-agent pitcher with a poor reputation for holding baserunners, as that individual might suffer the misfortune of an ERA unusually high comparative to his WHIP.