The BABIP comps for Jeff McNeil

If asked to name three rookies from the 2018 season, chances are you would name Ronald Acuna Jr., Juan Soto and Shohei Ohtani. If asked about their performance, you’d probably say that they lived up to and even exceeded the hype. If asked about their future, you’d probably say that if they stay healthy, the sky’s the limit. For what it’s worth, the respective BABIPs for that trio were .352, .338 and .350 yet no one bats an eye at those.

But when we examine Jeff McNeil, we say he exceeded all expectations and if we ask about his future, we wonder what will happen next year when he doesn’t run a .359 BABIP. The former is certainly true and the latter is a prudent point of view. But how much is the second half of that sentence shaped by the first half? Do fans in Atlanta, Washington and Anaheim fret about a sophomore slump from their rookies?

That trio all brings more power to the table than McNeil does. But the Met brings other things that surpass our heralded rookies. McNeil made much better contact, striking out fewer than half the times on a rate basis compared to the NL guys and nearly one-third as much as Ohtani. He was a far superior baserunner and because he’s an infielder, he brings more defensive value. With that last point in mind, let’s compare McNeil to other rookies this century who played the same position and see what we find.

Setting the minimum level of PA to 200, here’s where McNeil rates in various categories out of the 124 people who qualified for our list:

AVG – .329 (2nd)
OBP – .381 (4th)
SLG – .471 (11th)
K% – 9.7 (8th)
BB% – 5.6 (T 77th)
BABIP – .359 (6th)
wOBA – .368 (5th)
wRC+ – 137 (3rd)
BsR – 5.5 (T 3rd)
fWAR – 2.7 (T 9th)

There are 11 people from our list who posted a .350 or better BABIP. In addition to McNeil, Tampa’s Joey Wendle also did it in 2018. So, let’s look at the other nine guys and see what they’ve done for an encore after their big rookie season. The numbers in parentheses are rookie year, rookie BABIP and rookie fWAR. All WAR numbers will come from FanGraphs.

Trea Turner (2016, .388, 3.3) – Slowed by injuries in 2017, Turner put up a .329 BABIP and a 2.8 WAR in his sophomore season. Last year he played in all 162 games and had a .314 BABIP and a 4.8 WAR.

Esteban German (2006, .388, 1.6) – The following season he had a .307 BABIP and a 1.1 WAR in 405 PA. He only received 321 PA over four partial seasons in the majors after that.

Scooter Gennett (2013, .380, 2.0) – He followed up with .321 and 1.7 marks in 2014 and struggled mightily the next two seasons. But Gennett has had a major revival the past two years. In 2018, he had a .358 BABIP and a 4.5 WAR.

Enrique Hernandez (2015, .364, 1.5) – Suffered a mighty drop in BABIP, falling to a .234 mark and replacement level in 2016. He rebounded to a 1.3 WAR in 2017 and this past season he had a 3.3 WAR, despite a .266 BABIP.

Whit Merrifield (2016, .361, 1.4) – In 2017, he fell to a .308 BABIP but with roughly 300 extra PA he posted a 2.9 WAR. This past season, Merrifield rebounded to a .352 BABIP and recorded a 5.2 WAR.

Martin Prado (2008, .357, 1.1) – In 2009, he had a .331 BABIP and a 2.6 WAR, getting a nice bump thanks to the extra 248 PA. From 2010-2016, he amassed 19.7 WAR. Has been slowed by injuries the past two seasons.

Donovan Solano (2012, .357, 1.3) – Solano managed just a .287 BABIP the following season and with his BsR numbers also taking a big tumble, managed just a 0.2 WAR. He rebounded some in both categories in 2014, but only enough for a 0.8 WAR. He recorded just 117 PA in the majors after that.

DJ LeMahieu (2012, .353, 0.4) – He fell to a .328 BABIP and a 0.3 WAR the following year and turned in a similar season again in 2014. But the next three years, he once again posted ultra-high BABIPs and amassed 8.2 WAR in that time frame, mostly on the strength of a 4.4 WAR in 2016. Last year his BABIP fell to a .298 mark but he was able to post a 2.0 WAR thanks to the finest defensive season of his career.

Jemile Weeks (2011, .350, 1.8) – His BABIP fell to .256 the following season, when he posted a (-.02) WAR. He posted just 120 PA in the majors after that.

Well, that’s certainly a mixed bag. If you want to be bullish on McNeil, you can point to Turner, Gennett, Merrifield and Prado. But if you want to be bearish, you can cite German, Solano and Weeks. But is there something else we can add that might bring more clarity to the issue? Let’s take these nine guys and add back in McNeil and Wendle.

Name Age PA BsR Def WAR
Turner 23 324 5.6 (-1.8) 3.3
German 28 331 (-1.3) (-9.3) 1.6
Gennett 23 230 2.9 1.2 2.0
Hernandez 23 218 (-1.3) 0.9 1.5
Merrifield 27 332 3.6 2.9 1.4
McNeil 26 248 5.5 1.9 2.7
Prado 24 254 (0.7) (-3.6) 1.1
Solano 24 316 2.7 0.8 1.3
LeMahieu 23 247 (-1.6) 3.3 0.4
Wendle 28 545 3.0 4.9 3.7
Weeks 24 437 0.2 (-2.8) 1.8

Here’s where McNeil ranked in each category:

Age – 8th
PA – 8th
BsR – 2nd
Def – 4th
WAR – 3rd

Most of the players on this list were in either their age 23 or age 24 season. Interestingly the two guys who made the list in 2018 were older than that. The only two other players older than 24 were German and Merrifield, one bust and one success story, so not a lot to go by examining age.

None of the players amassed a full season of PA. The pre 2018 leader was Weeks, who turned out to be a bust. There’s a dropoff to the next group, which had four players amass between 316 and 332 PA. That had two busts and two successes. The ones at McNeil’s level were more of the success side but it’s hard to put a lot of faith in that.

McNeil is neck and neck with Turner as the best baserunner of the group. The pre 2018 baserunners who were noticeably above average were mostly in the success group. Solano was the only good baserunner to be among the busts. Weeks was barely in positive numbers. Only Prado was a poor baserunner from our success group.

The Def category is another mixed bag. LeMahieu and Whittfield were the best of the pre-2018 bunch while German, Prado and Weeks were the worst.

It’s hard to look at these extra categories and see any home run for future forecasting. The seemingly best addition was the BsR category, which if indicative of future success would bode well for both McNeil and Wendle.

Let’s try one more thing. Much like mathematically you shouldn’t add OBP and SLG but we do it anyway to get an easy answer, let’s add BsR and Def and see what turns up. Here are the pre-2018 leaders among our high-performing BABIP group:

6.5 – Merrifield
4.1 – Gennett
3.8 – Turner
3.5 – Solano
1.7 – LeMahieu
(-0.4) – Hernandez
(-2.6) – Weeks
(-4.3) – Prado
(-10.6) – German

Maybe we have something here. The top three guys are our successes and two of the bottom three guys are our busts. McNeil (7.4) and Wendle (7.9) would hold the top two spots on this made-up list.

When we look at comps, the hope is that we find a strong conclusion, regardless of which direction it’s ultimately in. When examining the comps of rookie second basemen with ultra-high BABIPs, we simply don’t get that. But the fact that there are multiple success stories in our small sample is still encouraging for looking ahead with McNeil.

Perhaps the best comp of these nine pre-2018 guys is Merrifield. Both he and McNeil were older than the majority of players in our sample and they both posted positive numbers in BsR and Def. Merrifield took a hit in BABIP in his sophomore season but still put up a strong 2.9 fWAR thanks to a full season of playing time. And in his third year, Merrifield put up a terrific 5.2 fWAR. Let’s hope McNeil can follow a similar path.

25 comments for “The BABIP comps for Jeff McNeil

  1. Mike Walczak
    October 21, 2018 at 12:49 pm

    I like McNeil’s overall game. He probably wont put up the numbers that he did this past season, but the question is, do we want him on our team? My answer is yes, he is a gamer. He can be a solid player for s for a long time. He has some pop and runs well. He was a terrific addition and surprise this past season. Remember, prior to the season, we were considering trading Wheeler for Josh Harrison. I am sure glad that we didn’t pull the trigger on that deal.

    Would love for him to turn out like Merrifield.

    As always, great article Brian. Thanks

  2. Pete from NJ
    October 21, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    So Brian, you’re basically saying McNeil’s numbers are consistent with other rookies who had following success and others who tailed off.

    So I assume the Mets let McNeil play and it’s his jib to lose. A backup plan needs to be in place so TJ Rivera, Andes Gimenez and if he’s still on the team Wilmer Flores are ready for action. Unfortunately though McNeil’s number will most likely digress from lofty perch, but sill high enough for success?

  3. TJ
    October 21, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    Great stuff, Brian. I am bullish on JMac and share the same basic view as Mike. JMac has forced his way into the equation and earned the 2b spot as it stands. He looks to have a complete game, so I have more confidence in a guy that contributes in multiple ways. The middle infield is very interesting, and if Gimenez pushes his way into the show early in 2019, this team could well have multiple players with good speed and baserunning abilities.

  4. Chris F
    October 21, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    Interesting Sunday reading like clockwork. We are always better for these thoughtful exercises.

    I cant help but raise a couple obvious pink elephants in this exercise that you did not mention: (1) age, and (2) top team and MLB prospect status.

    The three top comps come to MLB much much younger than McNeil. One reason to be bullish on Acuna is that he had his rookie year at age 20; Turner, age 22; Soto, age 19. Even Ohtani at age 24 is younger but is a freak of nature, so not a real comp. Acuna and Soto pretty much accomplished what they did in the rookie years as minor leaguers. The performance arc looks repeatable.

    McNeil all the sudden generates standout numbers in AAA then the Show. Its easy to say if he can do it once, then its in him and he can do it again. No way to argue against it. But he performed like a mad man, exceeding the road up, which is easier. Is his 2018 performance sustainable in the bigs in his sophomore year at age 27? I cant really feel comfortable predicting that, which to me reinforces that his book is still open. The 2017 prospect rankings at Mets360 had him at 40 (Groveman, reached through attrition), and 48 (Joura). Even in our own buttercream frosting over everything world we fans inhabit, McNeil was not on anyradar. For 2018, McNeil fell out of top 50 for Joura (hard to see ABs with talent at IF) and was not in the top 25 of Groveman, but who did write a very interesting piece on McNeil in early June this year. http://mets360.com/?p=35456

    Who is Jeff McNeil? There are many that have him locked into a 6 year run, after which he will have a first run at FA at age 33. As with everyone else, I found his play to be incredible this year. Aside from deGrom, McNeil was must see TV. Bryce Harper is younger than McNeil, and at FA now.

    I dont really see any predictive value in human comps, but it is fun to look at Merrifield and at least see a late bloomer tearing it up for real. At the very least he has earned the top spot for competing for 2B in Spring Training. We can all hope he’s unlocked the magic to become a MLB big deal.

    • October 21, 2018 at 4:51 pm

      Not only did I mention age, I put it in chart form to make it easy for everyone to see.

      As for his prospect status, being injured two straight years puts a crimp in things. When healthy, he typically hit in the minors. He certainly wasn’t a big heralded guy but before 2016, he was on everyone’s radar. Full seasons in ’16 and ’17 would have made a difference and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

      You don’t see any predictive value in human comps? Should we use animal ones, instead? All kidding aside, comps play a major role in all forecasting systems, including PECOTA and ZiPS.

      You’re kidding yourself if you think McNeil is competing for the 2B job in Spring Training. Barring injury, he will be the Opening Day starter. Now, it’s certainly possible that he turns into a pumpkin and loses the job by mid May. But you’ll be hard pressed to find guys who put up a .368 wOBA and a 137 wRC+ in 200+ PA as a 2B who don’t start the follow season.

      • Chris F
        October 21, 2018 at 5:14 pm

        There is exactly zero value in human performance comps. What Whit Merrifield does has zero to do with how Jeff McNeil performs. I challenge anyone to find a causal mechanism to demonstrate how entirely independent situations between two individuals with different genetic make up, play in different leagues, managed in different ways, and have different histories can be linked. Like I said, Merrifield shows it can be done. That is the entire extent tp which value can be assigned. (Note: even if Merrifield never blossomed, it would have no say on whether or not McNeil could do “it”). If predictions worked, then Las Vegas would be broke.

        Sure, they are gonna throw McNeil out there as the presumptive 2B for next season. But its a huge mistake to check that box off, and say its done. I’ll put 20$ on the line to the first taker that McNeil will not be starting on the last day of the 2019 season unless the Mets are well out of contention, and it doesnt matter. There are secondary options available, but you are putting a wild card as the starter with bench guys behind. Thats a lot for a team ‘going for it’ or even ‘rebuilding for it.’

        It only seems like yesterday when we heard the late season performances of Lugo and Gsellman made the Mets pitching staff the best in the league…maybe even the best ever. Oops.

        Im rooting for McNeil. I love his game. I love the never say die spirit. I love the pure energy and joyful enthusiasm. Lets hope it keeps rolling.

        ps. I did not see ages for Acuna, Soto, or Ohtani in your table, the rookies of 2018.

        • October 21, 2018 at 6:25 pm

          You’re standing alone on a tiny island in the South Pacific in your belief that there is zero value in human performance comps.

          • Chris F
            October 21, 2018 at 7:16 pm

            I challenge you to demonstrate how how one person’s performance determines the performance of another completely different individual.

            I may be “alone,” but I’m correct.

            By the way, I get that you can compare. Such comparisons are fine rearward looking things, great for making salaries etc. But what Merrifield did in his sophomore year is completely, wholly, and utterly unrelated to whatever McNeil does. Any similarity is serendipity/chance.

          • Chris F
            October 21, 2018 at 7:40 pm

            I mean predictive comps just to be clear. Merrifield’s (or any other player) performance two years ago offers zero predictive value about McNeil’s performance next year.

            • October 21, 2018 at 8:38 pm

              This is beyond stupid and I’m not engaging after this post. If you want to argue this go have the conversation with Nate Silver or Dan Szymborski or Brian Oliver or Sean Smith or Brian Cartwright or anyone else who runs a projection system based on comps.

  5. October 21, 2018 at 4:53 pm

    After a tough sports day yesterday with NCSU getting blown out and the Knicks losing in the last minute to the Celtics, today was a lot better with the Vikings’ big win.

    Thanks to Mike and TJ and Chris for the kind words.

  6. October 21, 2018 at 8:58 pm

    It’s interesting to see the player comparisons on this. If nothing, they’re a reminder of how hard it is to either predict or achieve success at the MLB Level. We’ve seen Him…Mesured Him, “Statted” Him….. and we still can’t figure out what He is, definitively.

    It’s more usefull to compare Jeff McNeill at a 359 BABIP to Jeff McNeill at a 300-320 BABIP…… I did an analysis that generated some variation dependent on assumptions about “power”…..I ended up with a projection of about a 700-720 OPS at the lowest assumptions….750-780 in the upper band, at present power levels. Added Power?…even better. My thought is that he will retain a Batted Ball Advantage because of the way he spreads the ball versus the way defenses and players are now conditioned to play. I’m optimistic that He can grow out some situational power. He’s an old style “Keith Hernandez Type” of hitter…a guy who might be able to find a pitch to drive in selected situations and pitch counts. That alone makes him part of the plan. He can play all over the Infield. He can spot the Mid Infield slots. He has played some outfield. I think He has a real shot at being well used as a Met….. He can offer tremendous value, even if He doesn’t start.

    I’d prefer that they aim for one too many Big League players versus one too few…so I’d like them to have players “decide” who plays.

  7. TJ
    October 21, 2018 at 9:36 pm

    Very interesting dialogue/debate/argument here. For me, this is part of the beauty and enchantment of baseball. It in some ways reflects life itself. Advancements have been made in knowledge and technology to determine probable outcomes, but they remain just that, probable. Certainly on the macro level the indentification of trends is useful, but on the micro level there is clearly more variation. Mr. McNeil has certainly piqued my interest as a Met fan, and it is good to know there is some precedent for a guy with similar stats to sustain success. Will he? Only time will tell. But this much I can say with certainty – the Mets are better off right now given his performance in the bigs last season, as he elevated his stock as an asset based on that performance. Personally, I like his game, and think the recent composition of the Met offense can certainly use his skills and approach. Ultimately, sustained MLB success is a combination of multiple factors, and a big one is the ability to adjust. The league will have a better book on JMac, and he will need to respond.

  8. Metsense
    October 22, 2018 at 12:02 am

    I am bullish of Jeff McNeil. I would like for him to reproduce his same numbers for a whole season but realistically I don’t pretend to think he will. What should I expect? We know that there are 15 teams in the National League and five of them makes the playoffs and three are division winners. There are 17 second baseman that had 350 at-bats. Number three had a f War of 3.8, number 5 had a 2.8 and #8 ,or the average NL second baseman, had 2.3. McNeil in 200 AB’s produce a 2.7 fWAR. Even is he regressed he should still achieve a #5 rating of 2.8 fWAR because he will at least get 500-600 AB’s over a course of a season. Why is there such skepticism even to make him an average second baseman? The Met fans should embrace him because he is something special. I think he will be one of the top three second baseman and put up a 3.8+ fWAR.

  9. TexasGusCC
    October 22, 2018 at 1:47 am

    For the record, I agree with Chris that predicting the performance of one player by analyzing another player is just wrong. What we do is use the player’s history and our own baseball knowledge to do that. The ZIPs system uses the player’s last three years as its major basis for evaluation and adds in the parabolic production of whether he is approaching his prime years or distancing himself from them.

    As for McNeil, I feel he is a talented offensive player because he puts bat to ball. His defense was surprisingly good, and I hope he keeps working on it. But McNeil has been hurt quite often in his career and I hope Callaway can rest him often. I’d like to see him rest once a week. While I know Flores can do a good job filling in, the ball and chain playing third base will need upgrading, and so are the Mets a better team with McNeil at third and Flores at second?

    In Fangraphs ratings, he got a 16.7 oWAR but only a 1.9 dWAR. An article in Fangraphs on September 13th said this: “Given McNeil’s lack of obvious tools, there’s still reason to doubt that he can put together a substantive major-league career, let alone sustain the pace he’s established since July.“

    However, the article continues with this nugget:
    “Then a funny thing happened in 2017. To that point, McNeil had posted isolated-power marks in .070 range, nor did there seem to be much room for more. In 2017, though, that ISO figure jumped to around .130. Then, in 2018, before his callup, his ISO was around .250 and he had hit 19 home runs — 10 more than his 2013-17 seasons combined.

    The underlying numbers backed up this assessment. When he entered professional baseball, McNeil put the ball on the ground anywhere between 45% and 50% of the time. In 2017-18, that number has been closer to the 35-40% range. Pairing his bat control with a change in swing plane would allow McNeil to tap into more of his power, without necessarily striking out at a prohibitive rate.

    Since arriving in Queens, McNeil has followed many of the tenets that brought him to the majors. The power isn’t as prodigious as in Double-A or Triple-A; his .154 ISO is still serviceable, though. He isn’t striking out (8.7%) and still has a walk-per-strikeout rate close to his minor-league rate (0.67 versus 0.70). His swinging-strike rate of 7.8% suggests that bat control has followed him to the majors, as does his .367 BABIP. The offensive package seems to be exactly what we would expect him to need for major-league survival: his minor-league profile with a little more power.”

    My point is that McNeil has learned. Be it studying Daniel Murphy’s adjustments or just paying attention, he has added an element to his game that when paired with his ability to make hard contact will be more line drives and soon more homeruns. Now if Lagares’ changes work out the same way…

  10. October 22, 2018 at 7:04 am

    Gus, how do I help You with your Flores Problem? He can barely play 1st base…and He cannot play another position. The stats say so…. the eyes say so…The guys who write Lineup Cards agree.

    He needs to hit like a Gorilla to Play…. 1800 ab’s have him at a 727 ops. His high water is a 795 ops.

    He has the curse of being extraordinarily slow….. and he’s also an awful baserunner.

    He’s ok with a Bat in His hands…..every single thing he does when “Not Standing in Batter’s Box with a Bat in His hands” is counter productive.

    He’s gonna make $5,000,000…He’s not a Batting Gorilla. He’s a non-tender.

    Let’s weep for Him Gus…but He’s gotta go.

    • TexasGusCC
      October 22, 2018 at 10:26 am

      Eraff, $5MM is not a lot for a 20+ HR middle infielder. Flores is actually a very good base runner and doesn’t get thrown out on the bases much, just gets thrown out at home when the genius third base coach sends him. He has proven very competent at second base.

      He is your most credible infielder reserve from any of your alternatives, and gives you the best chance to win. Hey, don’t worry, he will be gone next year.

      • Chris F
        October 22, 2018 at 1:18 pm

        Gus, Gus, Gus. Not even sure what to say except none of that is true.

  11. October 22, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    Gus…In the past two years his managers have not played him at 2b…… and there was a need.

    I like Wilmer….how can you not like him? Your view of him as a player is totally apart from my own reality….an we’re far, far, far apart on it.

    Maybe we agree that he’ll be gone…. I will be happy to see that, baseball interests front and center.

    • TexasGusCC
      October 22, 2018 at 6:28 pm

      Eraff, I agree that Wilmer is a player of some warts, and the speed is usually the first thing brought up. His foot speed reads Slow, but why doesn’t anyone bring up a certain Right Fielder no less, that is just as slow? Also, Dom Smith is a turtle. No mention?

      Well, Jeff Kent was a snail. So was Robin Ventura. And don’t let me bring up Olerud, who’s speed was measured in minutes, not seconds. The only reason anyone brings up Flores’ foot speed is the shitty third base coach kept sending him home. These other guys are all loved. How so?

      I can only remember one time that Wilmer got thrown out on the bases, and that was trying to stretch his go ahead single into a double in the ninth inning in Miami.

      • TexasGusCC
        October 22, 2018 at 6:34 pm

        And Hernandez called it a good play and in those circumstances, very smart. They had the lead and now maybe get in scoring position to tack on another run. It was in 2017. The only time he got thrown out on the bases of his own decision.

        • October 23, 2018 at 12:51 am

          “The Mets infielder went 3-for-4 at the plate Monday, but twice was thrown out trying for an extra base in his team’s 5-0 victory over the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

          In the first, he was thrown out attempting to stretch a single into a double to end the inning.

          Flores then doubled in the fourth, but was thrown out attempting to stretch the hit into a triple.

          And to complete his rough day on the bases, Flores was caught off first base on Jay Bruce’s line drive to Joey Votto that became an inning-ending double play.”

          “Flores, who made a bad base-running decision when he was nailed at home in the third,”

          “Statcast™ clocked Flores’ dash home at 7.2 seconds, despite a secondary lead of more than 16 feet.”

          • TexasGusCC
            October 23, 2018 at 2:07 am

            I said I couldn’t remember, I didn’t think that he never made a mistake. Man, you guys are cutthroat.

            • October 23, 2018 at 9:50 am

              My favorite player was Duffy Dyer so I don’t look down on anyone else’s choice. I think it’s ok to say that we focus too much on
              Flores’ faults and not enough on what he brings to the table. But when you take the extra step to minimize his faults, when we’ve all witnessed them on a regular basis, well – that’s a bridge too far.

      • Chris F
        October 22, 2018 at 7:27 pm

        Gus, Hes slow a molasses…but that alone is no crime. He has zero baseball instincts in the field or in the bases. Its not just 3B base running, but that too. Its not all the coach. His arm would grade as a 35-40 tops. His range is about a 35-40 tops. His glove is about a 40. The long and short is, he is a terrible all around player.

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