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Tigers' James McCann takes 'a lot of pride in' throwing out runners from his knee'

Kinsler thinks McCann should take up the practice full-time.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

DETROIT -- It's not often that you see catchers throw from their knees and still get the out. Consistently. It's not an easy feat to accomplish and frequently you'll see a catcher airmail a throw to center field or somewhere off target. Yet, that's exactly what James McCann does.

McCann's caught stealing percentage on the season is at 39 percent, seven points higher than the league average 32 percent. Until recently that number was in the 40s but there have been a few games that caused the percentage to drop because of the lack of help from pitchers. Even then there were instances where McCann would throw from his knees or standing and still nearly get a runner out. It didn't matter if the runner had a significant lead.

Throwing a runner from one's knees is an ability that Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus believes to be overrated. That, just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should unless the catcher has significant accuracy. Ian Kinsler has a different opinion altogether. With a cannon for an arm, McCann still said he lets the pitch dictate whether he'll attempt to catch a baserunner from his knees.

"It's something I take a lot of pride in, something I practice," McCann said on Monday after a 4-2 loss to the Rangers. "But when you warm up you don't go warm up throwing from your knees, you warm up throwing from your feet. So, it's definitely something that you don't do a whole lot of. It is a little bit tougher to get the accuracy. There is a lot more, I feel like, that can go wrong at times. But that's something that I practice a lot and I take pride in."

McCann had a catching coach in college that made throwing from his knees a requirement during practice. It took a while to build the arm strength but there's more to it than that. The entire body is used as momentum. McCann would watch Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez throw out a runner from his knees and remarked that Pudge would "sometimes fell flat on his face" on a throw.

As a game wears on it tires out a catcher's legs. So, McCann will often just throw from his knees to make it easier on himself. Being able to do that with accuracy requires dedication and a ton of practice. When Kinsler saw it happen for the first time in spring training it came as a surprise.

"I guess the first time, yeah," Kinsler said. "Usually young catchers don't have that kind of athletic ability to make plays like that, and be confident in it. And he's very confident in his throwing arm and for him to be able to throw a guy out from his knees like that is pretty special."

Between the momentum of a throw and missing that stability of throwing from your feet, it can be a challenge. But McCann does it with ease. And he does it often. Rangers' Ryan Strausborger had a significant jump on McCann in the eighth inning. The ball still made it to Kinsler's glove a couple of steps ahead of Strausborger to end the frame.

Seeing a throw like the one on Sunday no longer comes as a surprise for Kinsler. If anything, it's a practice that Kinsler thinks McCann should just do all time since he does it so well.

"We've talked about it," Kinsler said. "I actually recommended he just do it all the time because he's really good at it. He's really quick, really strong arm, strong throw, accurate. The guy today got a pretty good jump, a pretty good runner. He's able to throw him out."

It's not something that Ausmus wouldn't prefer seeing McCann do on a regular basis. And he didn't think that McCann had a shot at catching Strausborger, until he did. Ausmus remarked that throwing from the knees leaves you susceptible to becoming less and less accurate. Whether McCann is the exception to that rule could be left up for debate until after the season.