Prior to the 2021 season, the New York Mets struggled to find a starting catcher who could enhance their pitching staff while being a hard one to run on. They found a solution in free agent catcher James McCann as they signed him to a 4-year, $40.6 million contract.
However, he landed on the injured list on May 13 with a fractured left hamate bone in his hand and is expected to miss at least one more month. This leaves Tomas Nido and Patrick Mazeika as the catchers for the time being, and no other catcher is on the 40-man roster, with no moves on the horizon anytime soon at the catcher position.
That has proven to be a bigger loss than most fans realize in a couple of capacities.
The Mets are missing James McCann behind the plate right now, opposing runners are not
The Mets for over 10 years had a revolving door of starting catchers, from Travis d’Arnaud to Wilson Ramos, and the Mets always seemed to have issues with catcher’s defense. Both d’Arnaud (via trade) and Ramos (via free agency) were signed to add a power bat to their lineup. Both were also susceptible to giving up a lot of stolen bases while in Mets uniforms.
Going into the 2021 season, the Mets had a choice of either spending a lot of money on all-world catcher J.T. Realmuto or James McCann to help with the pitching staff and the defense. The Mets chose the second option because he demanded less than Realmuto (who signed a 5-year, $115 million pact with Philadelphia the same offseason).
And for much of 2021 and 2022 before he got hurt, the Mets’ pitching staff yielded one of the best results in baseball, while McCann’s clutch throws to catch runners justified the Mets handing them the 4-year contract they did.
With McCann as the team’s top catcher, the Mets had a 3.36 ERA and allowed only 12 stolen bases in 31 games.
Without McCann, the Mets pitching staff has a 4.76 ERA and allowed seven stolen bases in 15 games.
Edwin Diaz’s struggles have coincided with McCann’s absence.
Consider Diaz’s previous four outings, starting on May 17, four days after the Mets placed McCann on the injured list. He has a 7.36 ERA, a 3.27 WHIP, and two blown saves in four opportunities, including the walk-off loss on Tuesday in San Francisco. It was the Mets’ first loss of the season in which Diaz pitched.
Before this stretch, Diaz posted a 1.80 ERA with a 0.80 WHIP and eight saves in nine tries in 15 innings pitched. Yep, that's domination.
We all know Diaz as a closer is always ramped up with an adrenaline rush as he comes in to close. McCann’s calming presence allows Diaz to focus on pitching and getting outs, whereas with the other catchers don’t seem to have that authority.
The Mets catchers’ framing performance is inferior without McCann.
This element needs a bit of explaining to do, as it is based on sabermetrics. Baseball Savant looks at catcher’s framing of pitches thrown outside the strike zone that umpires tend to call for strikes. According to Baseball Savant, entering play on Wednesday, McCann ranks third among 75 catchers with 100 or more non-swing pitches close to the strike zone in that category, getting 51.0 percent of non-swing pitches into called strikes.
Compare these two marks to Nido and Mazeika. Nido’s strike rate is 11th at 49.7 percent whilte Mazeika's is 63rd at 43.0 percent. In the specific zone discussed above, Nido is That’s quite a drop off, and some of the pitches Mazeika couldn’t frame for strikes wound up impacting games, especially Tuesday’s dramatic defeat.
There were multiple instances where Mazeika’s lack of technique and confidence behind the plate has befuddled the team and umpires didn't call close pitches Mazeika caught for strikes.
As much as fans want to think Mazeika is a long-term solution based on his status as a cult hero from last year (the walk-off fielder’s choice machine), he’s simply not. He’s a third string catcher that is only on the active roster because of McCann’s injury.