The Detroit Tigers have a small problem. They have too many catchers.
The Detroit Tigers catchers know what to do behind the plate and they know what to do at the plate. And, two of them do it better than the one that is currently on the DL.
With James McCann on the disabled list after being hit in the hand by a pitch, he may have sealed his fate. He is currently considered the starting catcher, but the other two catchers have better numbers at the plate. And, they both do well behind the dish.
When James McCann went on the DL, John Hicks was called up to replace him. Now that McCann is expected to return soon, the role of Hicks is coming into question. Should he stay or should he go?
What happens when McCann returns?
If we look at the numbers, Hicks should be the regular player on the roster. Not McCann.
James McCann is in his third full season with the Tigers. Currently, his career averages are .239/.285/.379 and an OPS of .664. He has a total of 26 home runs. So far in 2017, McCann has been his typical self, batting .175 against right-handed pitchers and .286 against left-handed pitchers.
The need to hit right-handed pitching
This is why Alex Avila was such an important acquisition. As a left-handed hitter, he has a .386 average against right-handed pitching. But, there are more right-handed pitchers, so McCann’s weakness is a serious problem. He does not seem to be overcoming it, either. McCann actually has performed worse against right-handed pitching in 2017 than he did in 2016 and 2015.
The Tigers need all the help they can get when it comes to getting the win. McCann is often more of a liability than an asset when it comes to his time at the plate. His temporary replacement, John Hicks, has actually been more of an asset in 2017. He can hit against both left- and right-handed pitchers. According to Fangraphs, Hicks is currently batting .333 against right-handed pitchers and .278 against left-handed pitchers. These are both respectable numbers.
Hicks has been up and down in the Majors and Minors in the Seattle Mariners system and the Tigers system. His combined career numbers are .284/.329/.427 and an OPS of .757. He is currently 27 years old, which is the same as McCann. Unfortunately, their times in the Major Leagues are quite different, so it is not easy to compare them over their short careers. But, looking at their 2017 numbers, there is a big difference.
The numbers go in Hicks’s favor
Hicks has only played in 13 games in 2017, but almost all of them have had a memorable moment. He has had hits in all but two of them games (and in one of those he only had one at-bat); he has 14 hits. He has had 5 multi-hit games and he has 11 RBIs with 4 doubles and 3 home runs. He has ten strikeouts and one walk. His should be taken very seriously. And, in today’s game against the Chicago White Sox, he even stole a base. He has shown to be a clutch player who can hit for power.
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On the flip side, James McCann has played in 33 games. He has 22 hits with only 3 multi-hit games. He has a few more home runs that Hicks with 7, but only 3 doubles. McCann has 17 RBIs. Keeping in mind that McCann has 20 more games than Hicks, the number clearly lean in Hicks’s favor.
When it comes to fielding, they appear to be rather even as catchers. They are both 6’2. McCann is reported to weigh 210 pounds and Hicks is 230 pounds. McCann has only defensively played as a catcher, but Hicks has subbed for Miguel Cabrera at first base and for McCann behind the dish. They both have similar overall WAR stats, with McCann at 0.5 and Hicks at 0.3. McCann has one defensive error and Hicks does not have any.
If the Tigers are looking at the numbers, then John Hicks should be given a roster spot in Detroit when McCann is off of the DL. The side-by-side comparison in 2017 shows that Hicks is a better hitter and can defensively catch just as well, if not better than McCann, too. I’d like to see Hicks stick around as long as possible. When a player is doing well, there is every reason to let him continue.