David Ross, not Brian McCann, will be behind the plate for the Braves’ playoff game against the Cardinals tomorrow night.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez made that announcement today, saying Ross provides the best chance to win in part because McCann is “beat up” physically after playing through various injuries all season.
During the regular season McCann started 113 times, compared to 47 for Ross, but they essentially split the playing time evenly for the last two weeks and McCann was terrible throughout August and September.
McCann hit .243 with a .768 OPS through the end of July, which isn’t that far off from his career .826 OPS, but during the final two months the six-time All-Star batted just .201 with two homers in a .541 OPS in 39 games.
Ross, meanwhile, did his usual solid work in a backup role while hitting .256 with a .770 OPS in 62 games, but the decision to bench the left-handed-hitting McCann in favor of the right-handed-hitting Ross versus Cardinals right-hander Kyle Lohse is a bold move by Gonzalez.
Also worth noting is that McCann caught Atlanta starter Kris Medlen for 93 innings during the regular season, compared to 44 innings for Ross. And Medlen had a sub-2.00 ERA working with both catchers.
In Major League Baseball, players are routinely pressured to play through injury and pain. Sometimes it’s just a minor ache, and sometimes it’s a very serious injury. The pressure comes from everywhere: the players themselves, their peers, coaches, front offices, media, and fans. Players who develop a reputation for landing on the disabled list are described as “soft” and “fragile.” Players who battle through the pain get talked about as “gritty” and “dedicated.”
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals are trying to encourage their players to be more honest about their health. The culture surrounding this is tough to change, but manager Mike Matheny wants his players to come to him if “anything that is off.” As Goold notes, Alex Reyes and Matt Bowman revealed they were, in Bowman’s words, not “entirely forthcoming.” Carlos Martinez said he pitched tentatively because he was “scared” of re-injuring himself. Matheny also called pitcher Michael Wacha “a great liar” when talking about his arm health.
Matt Carpenter has also played through injury and takes pride in it. He’s an example of the old mentality the club is trying to pierce through. Caarpenter said, “I’m a believer in if you’re getting paid to do a job and you’re capable of doing the job — even if it’s 85 percent of your best — I feel you have the obligation to be out there. That is the mentality I’ve always used. I could have very easily, at times last year, sat on the [disabled list], but I felt like I could still go out and do my job.”
Goold points out that players approach dealing with health issues differently depending on where they’re at in their careers. A young player who just got called up has pressure to stay in the big leagues and appear in games, so he may not want to address a health issue. A player who has already secured a multi-year contract may have less pressure on him and thus may be more willing to come to the trainer’s room.
I’ve long believed that player health will be the next arena in which front offices will separate themselves from the pack. Analytics had been that battleground for a while, but with every club now having an analytics department in some capacity, front offices will have to find value in new ways. Limiting the amount of time that players miss due to injury would be a significant boost for a team and it will start with players being forthcoming about what’s bothering them rather than trying to fight through pain.