21. Brian McCann - best catcher in the NL?

How good is Braves' catcher Brian McCann? He had a great first full season in the big leagues, and The Braves Show's Bill Shanks talks about McCann's future as the Braves' receiver.

The Atlanta Braves knew Brian McCann was good, but this good? What a season for a kid playing his first full year in the big leagues. And just after one year, he's being mentioned as one of the best catchers in the game.

Let's look at it first offensively from a statistical perspective. Okay, the question is, ‘Is Brian McCann the best catcher in the NL?' So first we'll compare him to the other catchers in the National League.

In our study we are looking at ten offensive categories, and McCann is either first or second in every single column in the National League. He's first in home runs with 24, RBI with 93 (second is Johnny Estrada with 73), extra base hits with 58 (Paul Loduca was second with 45), batting average with a .333 mark, OBP at .388, SLG % with .572, and first in OPS with a .961 stat.

McCann finished second in doubles with 34 (Loduca was first with 39), hits with 147 (Loduca had 163), and tied for second in at bats with 442 (Loduca was first with 512 – 70 more than McCann).

So obviously, offensively McCann was the best in the National League in 2006, which makes it more appropriate to look at how he stacked up against the catchers in the American League as well.

McCann was first in half of those ten categories in all of major league baseball: home runs, RBI (tied with Jorge Posada and Victor Martinez), extra base hits, slugging percentage (Joe Mauer was second .65 points lower than McCann), and OPS (Mauer was 25 points lower than McCann).

It's probably safe to say that the Atlanta catcher was the best offensive catcher in the National League in 2006, and along with Minnesota's Joe Mauer, he's become one of the best catchers in all of baseball.

How did McCann stack up defensively in the National League? Well, looking solely at the percentage of throwing runners out, not very well. He threw out 23% of attempted base runners, 12th best in the National League.

If you watched McCann all season, you know that he did an excellent job of working with his pitching staff and at blocking balls. He's an excellent receiver, and with Chino Cadahia, who made Pudge Rodriguez a future Hall of Famer with instruction in the Rangers' farm system, now on the major league coaching staff, McCann will get even more pointers on throwing more runners out.

Of all the stats on McCann's sheet, not one is more impressive than the one next to AGE. Brian McCann was only 22 years old this season, which makes his other numbers even more impressive.

Perhaps the better question for McCann is, ‘How good might he be?' The unbelievable fact about his season is that after his ankle injury in mid-May in Arizona, he was never completely healthy. McCann spent two weeks on the disabled list, but even when he returned he had daily pain with his ankle. It was hard to even watch him walk around in the clubhouse on some days, but yet McCann went out there almost every day and played.

His batting average ranged from near .350 to where it finished at .333 for most of the season. He never really had a major slump, with July his ‘worst' month with the bat hitting .301. Despite his bum ankle, McCann had an outstanding second half of the season, hitting .324 with 18 home runs and 64 RBI in 238 at bats after the All Star Break.

And yes, this kid is only going to get better. It was not a complete surprise to the Braves that McCann hit well. No one could have predicted a .333 average in his first full season, but they knew he was going to hit. Remember, McCann's dad Howie is a hitting coach. He was an assistant coach at the University of Georgia and the Head Coach at Marshall in the early 90s. Howie McCann taught his son how to hit, and he did a damn good job of it.

Brian McCann might not hit .333 again next season, but do not expect a huge decrease in his statistics. The kid is a hitter, and he's only going to get better. Even if his average is not .333 again, he's going to be a run producer that can hit 20-30 home runs and drive in 80-100 runs a season. He's set the bar high offensively, but there's no reason to expect him to not continue to improve with the bat.

And you can bet that despite his great season, McCann is a bit embarrassed by his low percentage of throwing runners out. Like most catchers, he prides himself on his defense. He wants to be a great quarterback on the field, leading his team, and part of that is making sure runners don't run on him at will. Again, Chino Cadahia is an excellent catching instructor, so he's going to work hard to make McCann even better behind the plate.

With McCann and his best friend Jeff Francoeur, the Braves have one of the best young duos in major league baseball. Atlanta has had some great duos in the past: Dale Murphy and Bob Horner – Ron Gant and David Justice. But with two hometown boys in McCann and Francoeur, the Braves have the centerpiece for the future. They're both good, and they are only going to get better.

Is Brian McCann the best catcher in the National League? After his terrific season and considering his age and potential, it's safe to answer that question 'yes.' This kid is a great player now, and the sky's the limit on his future.

Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look at the Braves' traditional front office philosophies. He can also be heard regularly on the Braves' Radio Network. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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