James McCann’s Struggles: Mets Need More From Catcher

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The Mets’ early season has been filled with offensive shortcomings, especially catcher James McCann’s struggles. Last December, the new Mets regime made a surprising move when they signed catch McCann to a four-year 40 million dollar contract. McCann was expected to handle the majority of the catching duties, with strong defense and at least decent offense. However, over 100 plate appearances into 2021, McCann has been almost unplayable with the bat. With his 2021 sample quickly approaching his 2020 totals, it may be time for the Mets to reevaluate their catching combination.

James McCann’s Struggles: Did the Mets Overpay?

Throughout the early offseason, the Mets had been heavily linked to J.T. Realmuto, perhaps the best catcher in the game. Accordingly, fans were a bit shocked at the McCann contract. Not to mention that 4/40 was far more than McCann was projected to earn in free agency. MLB Trade Rumors, for instance, anticipated a two-year, 20 million dollar contract. This seems much more in line for a good defensive catcher with only a year and a half of strong offensive numbers. If things don’t turn around, the contract could quickly become a burden.

The Alternative

While Mets top catcher prospect Francisco Alvarez continues to make headlines, he’s still just 19 years old and playing in Low-A ball. He won’t be seen in the majors until 2022, at least. The Mets’ current backup to McCann is 27-year-old Tomas Nido. Nido was never a top prospect, and the Mets never expected much from him beyond one or two starts per week filling in for the starting catcher. However, in his limited appearances over the last two seasons, Nido has excelled.

The Offense

By far the worst and most noticeable shortcoming for McCann this season has been his offense. He’s slashing just .208/.269/.250 in 104 PA, including just two extra-base hits. Any Mets fan could tell you it seems like every McCann at-bat ends with a groundball to the right side of the infield.

In contrast, Nido has posted a triple-slash line of .265/.342/.529, punctuated with a go-ahead ninth-inning home run on Tuesday in the Mets win over Atlanta. While this includes only 38 PA, Nido also posted a .929 OPS as the backup catcher in 2020.

The Defense

A big part of what the Mets paid for with McCann is his defense, especially relative to Wilson Ramos‘ ability behind the plate. And while McCann is above-average defensively, Nido is simply better. One of the larger flaws in McCann’s game is his framing ability, or how well he receives the pitch to make it appear as a strike to the umpire. So far this season, he is below average, 38th percentile in MLB. Nido, in contrast, rates in the 96th percentile, one of the best in the game.

Another important aspect of catcher defense is preventing steals. One way of measuring this is pop time, the time from when the pitch is caught to when the catcher’s throw reaches second base. According to Baseball Savant, McCann ranks 57th out of 78 qualifying catchers. Nido, meanwhile, comes in at fifth.

The Mets have lost several players to injury already in the young season, including half of their eight everyday starters. This has led to guys like Khalil Lee, and Johneshwy Fargas starting in the outfield; and while they’re certainly talented players, they don’t appear ready to compete against big-league pitching. As such, the Mets need their remaining starters to step up and keep the Mets above water for the next few weeks.

Simply put, McCann has not yet stepped up when the team needs him. Nido, on the other hand, won the game for the Mets on Tuesday, after going 3-4 at the plate on Monday. With the current state of the roster, the Mets can’t afford another starter with a sub-.600 OPS. Going forward, Nido has earned himself at least a trial run of increased playing time.

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David Murtha is an MLB writer covering the New York Mets as well as general baseball news. He is a lifelong Mets fan born and raised in Queens. He is also currently a student at Stony Brook University studying biology, and has previously written for other online publications.