As soon as the Yankees’ signing of free agent catcher Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract was announced, the projections started rolling in. “McCann will hit 35-40 HRs with Yankee Stadium as home ballpark,” tweeted David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Others were less bold, suggesting 35 as a ceiling for the former Brave.
It makes sense at first glance. Yankee Stadium is 314 feet down the right field line, a feature of the park that has turned a catchable deep fly ball in 29 other parks into a fourth-row dinger. According to Statcorner, Yankee Stadium allowed home runs to left-handed hitters at a rate 16 percent higher than average. It was even more garish in 2012, when Statcorner pegged Yankee Stadium at 46 percent above the league average. In 2011, it was 45 percent; 39 percent in 2010; and 14 percent in 2009. As Keith Law noted in Saturday’s column, “Sixteen of his 20 homers in 2013 were to dead right field, as were 15 of his 20 bombs in 2012.” And that was playing half his games in the comparatively much more pitcher-friendly Turner Field.
Since the new Yankee Stadium opened up in 2009, however, a Yankee has crossed the 30-homer plateau just eight times. Two were by Curtis Granderson (43, 41), three were by Mark Teixeira (39, 39, 33), one by Robinson Cano (33), and two by Alex Rodriguez (30, 30). Alfonso Soriano could also join the list if you count his 17 as a Cub and 17 as a Yankee. But with that list, you have only two natural left-handed hitters (Granderson, Cano), a switch-hitter (Teixeira), and two right-handers (Rodriguez, Soriano). About as even a split as you can get.
The lack of left-handed hitters to hit 30 or more homers hasn’t been for a lack of trying. They’ve had Hideki Matsui, Nick Swisher, Johnny Damon, Raul Ibanez, and Travis Hafner, just to name a handful. Matsui hit 25 home runs as a Yankee in 2007. Swisher hit 36 as a member of the Athletics in 2006. Damon hit 24 in 2006. Ibanez hit 34 in 2009 with the Phillies. Hafner has more of an excuse as he hasn’t been a solid regular since 2007 but he hit 42 in 2006 with the Indians. If the short porch in right field is such a friend to lefties, why have only two lefties and one switch-hitter accomplished the feat in the five years of the stadium’s existence?
Let’s try some theoretical math. On FanGraphs, the Steamer projection system pegged McCann at 20 home runs prior to moving to the Bronx. If we buy that projection as realistic, and assume that 60 percent of his home runs (12) will come at home and 40 percent on the road (eight), even boosting the numbers by the highest Statcorner park factor listed above (45 percent), that would only put McCann at 25 home runs. (8 on the road + (12 home + (12 * 0.45 ))) Even if all 20 of McCann’s home runs were hit at home and we boost that by the 45 percent park factor, he only comes in at 29. It’s possible the 20-homer projection is low, but even after the most generous math, McCann still comes in under 35 home runs.
McCann solves a very obvious problem for the Yankees, and he solves it very well. His contract wasn’t outrageous, and he should be productive for them at least for the first few years of the deal. But let’s not overstate how much McCann will benefit from Yankee Stadium. It’ll help, but it won’t be his Popeye’s spinach.