James McCann looking to future after ugly first season as Met

The last time James McCann had the worst season of his career, he followed it up with an All-Star campaign the following year.

The Mets catcher is leaning on that past experience for perspective as he closes out another tough season in which did not meet expectations — his own or the team’s — in the first year of a four-year, $40 million contract.

“I know how I’ve had success, I know what I need to do to have success. This year, it just didn’t happen,” McCann said Thursday before the Mets played their Citi Field finale against the Marlins.

“It’s nowhere near the expectations I set for myself. Especially from a team aspect. I expect more of myself to help the team win on the offensive side and it didn’t happen this year.”

Entering Thursday, McCann was batting .228 with 10 home runs and an OPS-plus of 74 (100 being league average) in 118 games. It pales in comparison to the numbers he put up with the White Sox in 2019 and 2020, when he combined to hit .276 with 25 home runs and a 114 OPS-plus across 149 games.

James McCann
James McCann
Corey Sipkin

McCann was hardly the only Met to not play up to expectations, but after a year of adjusting to a new league, he knows he needs to be better next season.

“From my expectations heading into the season, it’s not where I want to be or I need to be,” McCann said. “First time in a new league, first time facing pitchers I haven’t really seen before, ball going right at guys, getting off to a slow start. There’s numerous things you can point to but I’ve never been one to make excuses. I’ve always been the kind that puts my nose down and gets back to work and makes the necessary adjustments.”

Manager Luis Rojas pointed to McCann putting a lot of balls on the ground as one of the main reasons for his tough year. The 31-year-old has recorded a career-high 52.6 percent ground ball rate — after keeping it to 43.9 and 39.1 percent in 2019 and 2020, respectively. His fly ball rate is also up (24.5 percent from 20.8 and 21.7 percent), but his line drive rate is a career-low 19.4 percent, after registering 29.7 and 33.3 percent the last two years.

After a season in which he struggled to make hard contact — his barrel rate was 5.5 percent, putting him in the 24th percentile of MLB, per Baseball Savant — McCann said he was ready to make necessary adjustments in the offseason.

“That’s the definition of crazy, to keep doing something that isn’t working,” McCann said. “Whatever that is, baseball or non-baseball, if it’s broken, you gotta fix it. … It’s not like I’ve never failed. I know what it takes to make the adjustments.”

Where McCann’s impact was felt the most this season was in his work with the pitching staff. The Mets entered Thursday with a 3.89 ERA (good for eighth in the league), which McCann considers part of his own stats.

“When they have a good year, I’ve had a good year,” McCann said. “When they have a bad night, I lay my head down at night and I’ve had a bad night.

“The offensive numbers weren’t there, but I don’t think my defense ever wavered as far as calling a game and not giving in and blocking balls in the dirt. … Our offense as a whole has underperformed this year and we were in first place for 100-plus days. A lot of that goes to our defense and our pitching. At the end of the day, that’s what wins games and that’s where I pride my game the most.”

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