We’ve been waiting for you, Jeff McNeil

Last off-season, the Mets explored a number of options at second base before deciding to sign Todd Frazier and move Asdrubal Cabrera to the keystone. Seemingly every second baseman not named Jose Altuve was available in trade last winter and the Mets reportedly had discussions about acquiring such players as Jason Kipnis, Starlin Castro, Cesar Hernandez, Josh Harrison and Brian Dozier. Our front office opted to go with Cabrera rather than give up assets (reportedly, Brandon Nimmo) for a veteran second baseman. So, how did that turn out?

Prior to being traded to the Phillies, Cabrera was having a strong offensive season, providing clutch hits and club house leadership, though his range in the field left something to be desired. Once the accepted that their playoff chances were slim-to-none, the Mets traded Cabrera for a promising minor league arm and eventually called up Jeff McNeil from AAA Las Vegas, where the lefty second baseman was tearing the cover off the ball. Since his arrival in Queens, McNeil has been a hitting machine, slugging .335/391/.486. His defense has also been better than advertised as he’s made some highlight reel plays in the field. He brings better than average speed on the bases and an infectious hustle as well. Putting him at the top of the lineup with Nimmo or Amed Rosario has provided the team with a late season spark and it appears he’s earned the position for next year.

Had we pulled the trigger on the rumored Nimmo for Harrison or Kipnis trade, the top of our lineup would look a lot different. Kipnis, who has been hot of late, got off to a terrible start this season and has seen his numbers decline for several seasons. Unless he can continue his hot streak, he’ll see his OPS decline for the fourth straight season. Harrison is experiencing a similar decline and this season is slashing just .251/.294/.365. Castro is having a pretty typical year for himself at .281/.332/.406 but he no longer steals bases and his home runs are down for the third consecutive season. You know who else can say that too? Brian Dozier. Traded from the Twins to the Dodgers mid-season, the former 40-home run threat has just 20 this season to go with a .218 batting average.

At first glance, it would seem Hernandez is the best of the bunch. His third straight year of .350 plus OBP to go with 19 SBs makes him a decent lead-off candidate. However, his batting average is 40 points lower than the previous two seasons and his defense has been less than stellar. Among second baseman he is 13th in UZR. Among the five potential trade candidates, only Kipnis appears in the top 10.

Combined, what we’ve gotten out of first-half Cabrera and second-half McNeil has been superior to any of these players, plus we found our second baseman of the future. Sometimes the best trade is the one you don’t make.

17 comments for “We’ve been waiting for you, Jeff McNeil

  1. b
    September 21, 2018 at 9:04 am

    keep nimmo

  2. Chris F
    September 21, 2018 at 9:30 am

    “we found our second baseman of the future.”

    Everyone is impressed with McNeil, how could you not be? Love that he’s a real gamer. Love that he has skills the rest of the team seems severely lacking in. Game after game of multiple hits.

    I just think there is room to tap the brakes a bit on playing this out like we accidentally tripped over a gold ingot walking down the street, then fell through a rabbit hole into a place where street lamps are made of calorie-free chocolate.

    He has earned a spot on the team. He deserves playing time. He should be rewarded for the effort. He was a Long Beach State Dirtbag (prefer Cal State Fullerton of course, but, Ill take it!), and I like that. I let the experiment keep playing out and see what we have, with cautious optimism, and see if he can keep getting on base at a 39% clip (shouldnt that be lead off worthy?) and maintaining a .370 BABIP. The baseball gods might have a different feeling. Until then, Im so enjoying his every AB and watching him in the field. Sadly, its just the final reminder of preparing for the traditional Mets winter of discontent where we will be robbed of daily baseball.

    • September 21, 2018 at 10:13 am

      Yeah, I’m with Chris on this one.

      We’ve witnessed one of the best BABIP careers ever with David Wright and not once – not even in his truncated seasons – did he put up back-to-back .370 BABIP seasons. He had an extremely impressive .340-.344-.356 run from 2005-2007.

      Ichiro was also one of the best ever in this regard. He had a .384 and .353 BABIP in back-to-back years.

      Derek Jeter is the only one I could find recently who turned the feat. He put up .375-.396-..386 BABIP seasons from 1998-2000 and also had .391-.367 marks in ’06-’07.

      Is McNeil in the Wright-Ichiro-Jeter class? I’m going to have to say it’s doubtful.

      Edit: Mike Trout did it, too, with a .383-.376 combo in 2012-13. Doesn’t exactly hurt the comparison group. I’m sure there are others that I missed.

      • TJ
        September 21, 2018 at 3:08 pm

        Agree with you and Chris on this…reasonable to assume some regression to mean and league adjustments. Still, his emergence is good for the team and organization.

  3. September 21, 2018 at 9:50 am

    The hitting Nimmo sixth in driving me crazy as was having McNeil bunt twice last night

  4. Pete In Iowa
    September 21, 2018 at 11:34 am

    What is it with this organization being so wrong on their youngsters.
    In McNeil’s case, word was he couldn’t field. Since he’s been called up, I’ve seen no evidence that he can’t field. Looks pretty damn good out there to me.
    They also said the same thing about Conforto back in 2015. Wrong on him too. And, I think they were wrong on Rosario as well, although in the other direction, as he hasn’t look nearly as good in the field as we were led to believe prior to his call up..
    How is it possible for an organization be so wrong when it comes to the defensive ability of their young players? When it comes to hitting, I can see why there could be a mis-read on a guy. After all, there have been plenty of guys who could hit in the minors but couldn’t in the majors. But with defense?? That is something which should translate fairly reliably from the minors to the majors.

    • MattyMets
      September 21, 2018 at 11:52 am

      Pete in Iowa, that’s a great point. Dom Smith was also supposed to be a gold glover at first.

      • Pete In Iowa
        September 21, 2018 at 4:29 pm

        Right you are Matty. I forgot about him!

  5. José
    September 21, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    I have to admit that being a mostly silent reader of this blog, you guys are so bright and knowledgable that I often feel a bit dull. However, i am not a dummy – in fact, you might be shocked just how much of a dummy I am not!

    Anyway, besides expressing my admiration, I’m curious about your BABIP discussion. Based on my limited research, it seems that BABIP is strongly influenced by luck, especially over smaller sample sizes. Also, the defense against which a hitter hits has as well a random factor which could also be called luck; I can’t see a batter consistently hitting balls directly at a weak 3rd baseman, say, other than possibly bunting more often in that direction.

    So, what exactly is the significance of a consistently – that is, season to season – high BABIP? Is this a better indicator of run production than say OBP or OPS?

    • September 21, 2018 at 2:26 pm

      MLB average BABIP is consistently in the .300 range. Last year it was .300 on the nose. Since 2000, the range has been .293 to .303 – which is pretty darn consistent.

      Anyone can have a high BABIP in one year but many more times than not, that same guy will follow up with a markedly lower rate the following year. Juan Lagares had a .341 rate in 2014. His next three years were .308, .274 and .309

      A player like Wright, who put up a .330 or better BABIP in 7 of the 10 years he played at least 100 games, is rare. You need some combination of plus speed, plus contact rate and plus squaring up the balls rate.

      Until proven otherwise, a high BABIP is a mark of good fortune. There are players who run consistently high BABIPs but those tend to be some of the absolute best players in the game. Since 1970 (min 5,000 PA) the highest lifetime BABIP belongs to Hall of Famer Rod Carew. Rounding out the top 5 is Joey Votto, Derek Jeter, Miguel Cabrera and Wade Boggs. The next two guys are Kirby Puckett and Tony Gwynn. These are all multi-year All-Stars – Votto’s six AS games is the fewest of the bunch.

      To think that Jeff McNeil can be in this class of player is optimistic. Nimmo is in the same boat but at least he’s done his over 800-something PA compared to 1/4 of that for McNeil.

      • Pete In Iowa
        September 21, 2018 at 4:36 pm

        Not sure I follow Brian.
        On the one hand, you make the statement that “until proven otherwise, a high BABIP is a mark of good fortune.”
        But then you go on to point out that the top BABIP guys were all among the best hitters the game has ever seen. This would seem to “prove otherwise” that a high BABIP — over a career — would seem to indicate a very good pure hitter.
        Sure, BABIP can and does swing wildly from year to year among average (or a little better or worse than average) hitters, but the same can also be said for BA, HR, RBI, OBP and OPS.

        • September 21, 2018 at 7:14 pm

          When Rhys Hoskins comes up and hits 18 HR in 170 ABs – you can be reasonably sure that he’s a top power hitter. If before the season started you gave me the chance to bet $500 that he he would hit 30 HR if he played a full season – I would take that bet.

          When Jeff McNeil comes up and posts a .367 BABIP in 190 ABs – that doesn’t mean the same thing. If before 2019 starts you give me the chance to bet $500 that he would top a .350 BABIP if he played a full season – I would decline the bet.

          You can go back through history and find power hitters who did something akin to what Hoskins did who did not turn into big power hitters. Kevin Maas jumps to mind and I’m sure there are others. But for every Maas you can name, I’ll find 10 guys with super high BABIPs in a short sample who did not become premier guys in that category. And you’ll run out of names before me.

    • TexasGusCC
      September 21, 2018 at 7:02 pm

      Jose, while I don’t quite understand your reason for bringing up your’s or anyone else’s intellect, when looking at BABIP, some luck may be involved. However over time, I see one consistency in who has a high BABIP and who doesn’t. The players that hit more line drives, will have a higher BABIP. When TJ Rivera was lighting it up, I looked into his numbers and found him to have a .778 average on line drives. I then looked at Daniel Murphy who should have been MVP in 2016, and his average was around .670. So, then I started looking around and saw that everyone hits over .600 on line drives. The difference was how many line drives each hitter hits to give themselves the best chance at a higher average.

      A player like Todd Frazier has about a 16% line drive percentage; Bruce is at 20%. Murphy however was at 33% and that’s where McNeil is now. So, if he can continue to hit the ball hard, there’s no reason why his BABIP and his average should suffer too much.

  6. Steevy
    September 21, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    Gump is 28 but his knees are 80.Now we know why he runs like he is carrying a piano.

  7. Matt Netter
    September 21, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    I like Nimmo as a leadoff hitter, at least against righties. One issue I see with this team right now is that with Nimmo, Conforto, Bruce, and now McNeil, with Cespedes on the long-term DL, we’re lopsided. Gonna need another right-handed bat, preferably a big one as Frazier, Rosario, Flores, TDA/Plawecki, Lagares are not providing any scary bats from the right side. Maybe it’s Peter Alonso, or maybe it’s Manny Machado or maybe it’s someone in between available in trade.

  8. Eraff
    September 21, 2018 at 5:02 pm

    McNeill may be more difficult to shift and predict—maybe he will hit for a higher than usual babip… i’ve done some long hand comparison based on Baseball Reference and 210 plate appearances.

    If I use a .310 babip, and assume that all of the “lost good fortune hits” were singles, then his total bases drop from 95 to 83….. His slugging % goes from .500 to .430 He also drops from an OBP of .391 to .328.

    That crashes his ops from .891 to .758

    I like Jeff…alot! He’s a piece and he’s not necessarily topped out as a Hitter, even if his “luck” will never be as strong. Perhaps he adds some BB…maybe a bit more power. If he can remain in that 300/310 or higher babip range, he’s certainly a very useable player. Maybe he slots in at a 750-790 ops….but it’s overly babip dependent right now.

    More Walks….a touch more power… otherwise, he’s a nice Rotational player.

  9. Eraff
    September 21, 2018 at 5:08 pm

    ps… Conforto .284 BABIP. Nimmo…. .355

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