Keltner List: Brian McCann

Once a year, Mac used to write up a Keltner List for a retired Brave, as a way of debating whether he deserved to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. It’s been several years since we’ve had one, but the recently retired Brian McCann deserves to have his candidacy seriously considered.

Here’s Mac’s standard preamble to Keltner lists: The Keltner List was developed by Bill James as a device to evaluate a player’s Hall of Fame candidacy. In The Politics of Glory James says that it is probably his favorite tool to do that. (You can read about the background in that book, or do a Google search, for further information.)

So let’s run it for Heap, whose last year in the big leagues was 2019, which means we have several years to debate the merits.

  1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
  2. Was he the best player on his team?
    No one would have said that he was — everyone would have said it was Chipper Jones. But if you go with the pitch framing component of WAR that Fangraphs uses — which you absolutely have to if you want to treat McCann’s candidacy remotely seriously — then the answer, surprisingly, becomes yes. During McCann’s peak years from 2006 to 2012 (which was also Chipper’s last season), McCann amassed 38.4 fWAR, compared to just 27.1 for the aging Larry Wayne. This will keep coming up.
  3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
    Possibly yes, for a couple of years, until Buster Posey (who was out) came into his own. Per Fangraphs WAR, from 2006 to 2008 or so, there’s an argument that McCann was the best catcher in baseball, though Joe Mauer (unsurprisingly) and Russell Martin (surprisingly, and also because of framing) are both slightly ahead of him.
  4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
    Not especially, and his actual postseason record is actually pretty horrid: in 39 games, across eight postseasons including a championship run with Houston in 2017, McCann hit just .172/.252/.297 with four homers and 16 RBI in 143 plate appearances. The easy guess is he was just utterly worn out after the regular season, which is certainly how he looked in the 2019 playoffs.
  5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
    No, unfortunately, as catchers are not known for aging gracefully. His prime ended shortly after signing his five-year, $85 million deal with the Yankees. He remained a full-time catcher for the first three years of the deal and declined from a three- to four-win player to a less than two-win player. They traded him to the Astros for two years, where he played as a backup. Then he returned to Atlanta and hit pretty well for a while in 2019, before tailing off at the end of the year.
  6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
    The answer to this question is Barry Bonds, of course. Brian isn’t close.
  7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
    No. Pitch framing analysis is pretty new, and extremely controversial, as it basically consists in figuring out how good a player was at fooling the umps into unfairly favoring their own team. Plus, Brian also has extremely similar statistics to his contemporaries Mauer, Martin, Posey, and Yadier Molina, as well as Ted Simmons, who for decades now has stood as a human embodiment of a catcher whose stats weren’t quite good enough for the Hall.
  8. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
    If you’re using his rWAR, absolutely — Brian’s a 7-time All-Star and 6-time Silver Slugger whose career was far better than his 31.8 WAR would suggest. His fWAR adds in 20 full wins with the glove, to a total fWAR of 54.5. His pitcher teammates generally seem to have regarded him as a good game caller, but we don’t have a great measurement for that, even qualitatively.
  9. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
    Actually, if you go by his fWAR, it’s close — though Russell Martin still has the slight edge.
  10. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
    Really, his only MVP-type season was his incredible 2008, when he hit .301/.373/.523 — thanks to somewhat improved baserunning, his overall offensive performance was slightly better than his amazing .333/.388/.572 line in 2006 — and also contributed four wins with the glove. It was good for 8.6 WAR. None of his other seasons come close.
  11. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the Hall of Fame?
    Brian made seven All-Star appearances, six in a row and all seven in an eight-year span. That’s good, though it isn’t especially distinguished: Del Crandall started eight All-Star Games, for example. Ted Simmons appeared in eight All-Star Games. Yadier Molina has gone to nine. Brian’s ASG count isn’t disqualifying — Russell Martin’s four appearances are extraordinarily few for a player hoping to make the Hall — but it isn’t especially noteworthy.
  12. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
    No, though that’s a high bar for a catcher. Joe Mauer carried his teams, along with Justin Morneau, and Mike Piazza was the class of several of his squads. But even baseball’s best catchers typically need to be surrounded with other talent at positions that require fewer off-days.
  13. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
    No. The thing McCann is mainly known for is for barking at players who showed up his team (hence his nickname “Fun Police”). He was not influential.
  14. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
    Yes, notwithstanding the fun police stuff. He’s always been regarded as a good teammate.

I’m guessing that most casual Braves fans don’t see Brian McCann as a serious Hall of Fame candidate. But realistically, his candidacy is basically right in between Andruw Jones (who I believe should be in) and Dale Murphy (who Mac supported, but I don’t).

If you’re a serious big-Hall guy, you probably want both Martin and McCann in; if you’re a serious small-Hall guy, you want neither of them in. Though Martin was possibly a smidge better than McCann and certainly had a more graceful aging curve, I don’t think there’s a serious argument to put him in and leave Brian out, and the same goes for Yadier Molina, despite what Cardinals fans think.

Realistically, Brian is almost certainly going to remain on the outside looking in, unless several of his pitchers wind up on the Veterans Committee in 2060.

33 thoughts on “Keltner List: Brian McCann”

  1. @King at the end of the last thread (who pointed out that the Cardinals are complaining about the fact that the baseball aren’t flying as far in the playoffs):

    Do you wanna tell them that we’d have won the NLDS with the regular season baseballs, so maybe they should pipe down, or should I?

  2. Great piece of writing here, Alex. I would’ve instantly said Brian isn’t Hall worthy if asked before I read this. I still, even after reading, don’t feel he is. It’s surprising that he had a better WAR than Chipper did over that stretch though. I can at least see why someone might toss him a vote.

  3. If the only reason to seriously consider him is pitch framing, then IMO he shouldn’t seriously be considered.

    And that’s nothing against BMac, I just am not at all a fan of the whole pitch framing thing, and hope that it will soon go away anyway.

  4. Put this little nugget out there: Brian McCann has a higher fWAR than Yadier Molina, granted Yadi isn’t likely to retire after this season.

  5. Director of media communications for the Angels has now admitted he provided Tyler Skaggs with oxycodone illegally and regularly. That’s… not good.

  6. @10 wow

    Alex…highly educational and most informative, thank you. Hopefully, when you hang up your quill, a journalistic Keltner will await.

  7. @4

    Soccer provides its own problems for its fans right now. The second of two fortnights where there are no club matches played so the managers of the various International squads – who play each other then – can pick who they want. Everyone else just sits around for two weeks.

  8. From the discussion from the prior thread. If you’re going to be a data-centric team, you should use a data-centric approach. If you’re going to have a guy like Markakis then you have to acknowledge that he’s a great April/May player and use him hard early then sit him down when his slump begins. Conversely, you have to admit that Ender just will not hit much until after July 1st and use him appropriately. I’m sure there are lots of other examples, but you have to use your people appropriately. How many years do we have to learn this pattern before we act on it?

    With regards to the way Soroka was used. Saving him for Game 3 was idiotic regardless of the home/road split. Figure it another way. If Soroka starts the 1st game and wins, you’re a genius. If Soroka starts the first game and loses, that ensures a Game 4 if you are to win the series and Soroka then gets to start it on the road. Win/win.

    Next year, if you essentially set up a semi platoon with Pache/Ender and Markakis/Duvall, you lean heavily on Pache early to see if he can break out and then default back to Ender by July 1st. Just the opposite with Markakis; lean on him early with fewer starts for Duvall and have Duvall your defensive replacement top pinch hitter late. Then lean on Duvall when Markakis slumps.

    Neither Markakais nor Ender are full time FULL YEAR players any more.

  9. Well, I was ok, but I’m getting pretty pissed off now. The Nats are up 2-0 and made it look easy. The Braves are a disgrace.

  10. The Yanks are up 5-0, against Greinke. A different level of power hitting, spread throughout the order. Educational.

  11. The problem with a Keltner list for catchers is that catchers are evaluated differently; their careers are shorter (at least at catcher, Pudge Rodriguez notwithstanding) and the things they are evaluated on, like pitch framing, are things that we weren’t really good at measuring until recently. (Defense generally is poorly measured, which is a big part of Andruw’s problem.) You did a good job, AAR, but I think the best comparable for McCann is Jorge Posada, and until Posada gets in, McCann has no chance.

    As to the Cardinals, I reiterate my position that we wore them out in the first three innings of game 5. They have exactly one run since then. The Nationals should give us a share of their playoff bonuses.

  12. @16: Educational how? That you can increase your payroll by 50 percent (and that’s just the 25 man… the 40 man is worse) and get more power? Didn’t you know that already?

  13. You just knew the Cardinals were going to stink up the NLCS. They are a mediocre team that got extraordinarily lucky in the DS.

  14. @18

    Educational as in watching for 3 hours what money can buy. For the first time. This line up, this league.


  15. Seeing St. Louis struggle is just turning the knife. It should be use playing the Nats. Should have been able to flip between FSU losing by 5 scores and the Braves playing the Nats, but the sports gods just don’t want me to be happy.

    coop, wasn’t a great day for either of our teams yesterday. Muschamp has a tendency of ruining his own season and then ruining someone else’s. That’s pretty much the only thing he does well.

  16. Also, I’m pretty much at the point that I’ll be mad if the payroll is not in the $155-160M range. That takes us from 14th with $137M to passing Seattle, Colorado, and Philadelphia and being between Philly and New York. We would be $8M behind the Nats.

    And you probably think I’m being naive for thinking that Liberty Media is going to spend another $17-22M on this team than it already is, but I feel like I’m seeing that the owners set the tide level based on what other teams in the division are doing and where they are on the win curve/competitive window. And the teams in our division all decided to start spending more money at the same time, which I don’t think is a coincidence.

    Also, all of the key rebuilders (Cubs, Astros, Phillies, etc.) had a period where they were bottom third during their rebuild and then worked their way towards the top third as their talent was most consolidated at the major leagues. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Atlanta do the same for a couple years and then falling to the middle of the pack and the ownership mediocrity that it is. It’s really just the oldest trick in the book: raise prices just to lower them via a “sale”, remove employee benefits just to bring them back as an act of “benevolence”, etc.

  17. @21: Rob, Florida gave LSU heck. I really thought they were going to win. I’m glad we don’t have to play in Baton Rouge at night, and I don’t look forward to playing the Gators in Jacksonville. My big mouth may have overloaded my puppies again. Sigh.

  18. There are 4 teams still left in the playoffs and 3 of them are among my top 5 most hated teams. Unfortunately it’s not looking good for the only team I don’t hate- Houston.

  19. @25 I’m in the exact same boat, Td.

    I do not like the Yankees.
    I do not like the Nationals just a bit more.
    I positively can’t stand the Cardinals even a bit, though.

  20. In 1953 I learned Yankees was half a word. Grampa wouldn’t tell me the whole word, ’cause Gramma was a yankee. She grew up riding horses in the Dakotas before her daddy moved the family to St. Paul. Still, Grampa made sure I told Gramma what I learned. Gramma didn’t think it was funny, but Grampa sure did.

    My dislike for the half-named New York team began in 1953. It has been nurtured ever since. I confess. I hate those damn Yankees.

    This year I hate the Cardinals more.

    Go Nationals. Go Astros.

    At least until pitchers and catchers report.

  21. Astros win game two 3-2 with a Correa home run in the 11th. Score had been tied 2-2 since the 6th, quite a collector’s item.

  22. As long as an AL team is winning the WS, I’ll be fine. Preferably the Astros.

    I just can’t stand Schildt and the Cardinals.

  23. @17, I broadly agree with everything you’re saying, and catcher Keltners are difficult though a lot of the questions allow you to look at positional comparables.

    I think Russell Martin and Yadi Molina are better comparables for McCann than Posada, but I broadly agree that there’s no chance of Mac getting in till philosophies change broadly.

  24. McCann is the perfect candidate for the Hall of Very Good, but he just doesn’t rise to Hall of Fame level. Unfortunately Murphy and Andruw Jones both seem to be in that same Hall according to voters.

  25. coop, yeah, I think we played LSU about as well as we could have. I’m not sure that’s a game we realistically could have expected to win. Before the season, I’m not sure how much of a shot I’d have given Florida against Georgia, but with how they did against LSU, I think that game’s a little closer than originally thought. Still think it’s Georgia’s to lose, but LSU was about as good of a warmup as you could possibly have.

    I continue to feel like Georgia has neglected the passing game, and I think it’s starting to show in Fromm’s stats. Great OL, great running game, but can’t get the ball downfield.

    How do you feel about Coley’s performance?

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