Why Jeff McNeil will be a valuable bat in 2019

If you missed Jeff McNeil bursting onto the scene in 2018, you missed the one of the best things about the entire New York Mets season. McNeil is built from a thread that could have been weaved from Billy Beane himself. Before having success in the major leagues, McNeil was a 12th round draft pick of Sandy Alderson in 2013, and had injury issues throughout his climb to the majors. Known for his ability to hit, and the odd, knob-less bat that he uses as his tool to do it. Whether it was his ability to hit all over the field or the tool that he used to do it, the Mets were 37-26 after he was called up.

McNeil had several qualities besides using a knob-less bat that made him one of the best Mets hitters from last season. To start, he was a fantastic hitter when he was tasked with batting with two strikes. Following 0-1 counts in at bats, McNeil batted .305, which is a testament to how effective he was last season. In comparison, Michael Conforto hit .229, and Brandon Nimmo sliced a measly .243. Because of his ability to hit in multiple counts allowed Mickey Calloway to flex McNeil in every lineup spot except for the lead-off and clean-up roles last season.

McNeil’s bat was necessary when the Mets had him in the lineup last season and they won games. When McNeil was in the lineup for Mets victories, he slugged a batting average of .412, in which he drove in 15 of his 19 runs batted in. This is a stark contrast to his batting average in losses, which was a lowly .202. Clearly, the Mets needed McNeil to boost their offense in the games that he was in the lineup.

A large part of McNeil’s game included him leading off innings. When leading off an inning, McNeil hit .354. Possibly the most impressive part of his ability to bat well in the beginning of an inning was that he hit three triples when being in the position to do so. While Nimmo has the leadoff position basically cemented, having another player who is adept at starting an inning is extremely useful.

While he is good at a lot of things, McNeil is not a perfect baseball player. Against left-handed starting pitchers, McNeil batted .250, and had none of his 19 RBIs. Against left-handed starters, McNeil also acquired the least total bases, 15, and an OPS of .693. McNeil received limited time against left-handed starters in 2018 however, putting up only 45 at bats. He’ll get more at bats this season, with him serving as a super utility, so before analyzing if it is a critical problem of his he needs to receive more at bats.

These at bats will be harder for McNeil to come by during the 2019 season with the recent signing of Jed Lowrie. McNeil now likely will play the role of a super fill-in during the season, meaning that he will slip into any of the infield spots when a starter is out. Whether he starts or comes off the bench though, McNeil will prove to swing a pivotal bat during the 2019 season.

20 comments for “Why Jeff McNeil will be a valuable bat in 2019

  1. January 12, 2019 at 8:33 am

    More of Mets being ‘Mets’ and doing ‘Met things’….McNeil is a stud in the making and the Mets are the only ones that don’t see it…gosh. Here we go again. Not enough space here to illustrate all the players Mets blew it with, but here is one for perspective – Justin Turner. McNeil should be the everyday 2nd Baseman, period.
    Not only did he hit, but also played a good 2nd base with athleticism, something outside of Rosario and Nimmo, DeGrom when he is on the mound, that Metsies totally lack. Of course Cano can still hit and that will prove out, but Mets didn’t need to get him. He is probably a DH at this stage, or a 1Baseman, but that stops rookie Alonso’s impact and Met’s need him too. So, now McNeil will be the “super utility” guy…great ; (
    This probably means he will play 2x a week and maybe pinch hit once in a while when he should be in the everyday lineup. Lowrie had a terrific year last year, but he is 34, in a new league. I hope he can supplant Frazier, but if not, I would prefer McNeil does and Lowrie, not McNeil, be the “super utility” guy more suited to do so at 34, than young McNeil, who needs to play everyday. So obvious in my opinion. Not obvious to Mets, obviously.

    Editor’s Note – Please do not capitalize words in your post, as that is a violation of our Comment Policy.

    • January 12, 2019 at 9:24 am

      In one regard I agree with you and that is McNeil should be a starter. Where I disagree is the amount of playing time and at bats he will get. Last year I responded to a poster who was bemoaning the potential lack of playing time for Nimmo before Cespedes went down with injury. I told him that Nimmo would get 400 at bats-he may not be a starter but he will get the at bats. Of course Cespedes’s injury aided me in my prediction but Nimmo was still going to get his at bats. I feel the same way about McNeil. With the addition of Lowrie he won’t get 400 at bats but he will get 250-300, which is more than the twice a week you predict. You’ve got 5 players-Cano, McNeil, Alonso, Frazier, and Lowrie-for 3 positions (1B, 2B, 3B). There will be enough work especially if Lowrie plays shortstop every once in a while and McNeil plays some outfield.

  2. Artie
    January 12, 2019 at 9:23 am

    It just seems like they’re not sold on McNeil. Today’s emphasis on homeruns is probably one reason why. I’m thinking he might be traded.

    • January 12, 2019 at 9:29 am

      I agree the Mets are, misguidingly, not sold on McNeil but I don’t think they will trade him. If you see my above post there will be enough at bats to go around. Another point is that Cano, Frazier, and Lowrie are all long in the tooth and injury is much more probable when you reach the mid-30’s. Their infield depth is an asset more than a problem.

  3. Steve S.
    January 12, 2019 at 9:28 am

    It looks like (based on some limited data) that McNeil can hit LHP a bit better than does Lowrie. So that could put him in the lineup against LHers.

    It is also hard to believe that BVW doesn’t have some other moves lined up—such as trading Frazier (with some cash?) for a 5th starter or a reliever. Or he could deal McNeil—although I would hate that move.

  4. TexasGusCC
    January 12, 2019 at 9:46 am

    The Mariners wanted McNeil and the Mets said no. They aren’t going to trade him. Even if McNeil has to start in Syracuse to get consistent at bats, many good teams have an issue intergrating the new guys – and he is a new guy. While we can keep wrestling on the Cano factor forever, let’s not… it’s done. The Lowrie signing was good. Frazier is on the team and Chili Davis’ project. Let’s give things a chance.

    Besides, he was an outfielder in high school, so let’s send him there in March and see if he’s better than Jay Bruce was.

  5. TJ
    January 12, 2019 at 11:10 am

    For teams that are not tanking, or at the point where they have tanked, played kids, and have improved into contenders, there is always the balance between going with veterans and younger players flashing potential. This is part of the fabric of baseball and endears us to the game.

    What Brodie and the Mets have done so far this winter is far from perfect, and in some cases (Cano) troubling, they have done a reasonable job, so far, improving depth on the 40 man. This guards against injury and under performance. For all the optimism the 2018 performances of McNeil and Nimmo give us, the sample is quite small and there is real regression risk. They now have insurance in multiple places, both positionally in the field, and positionally in the line up. There are several legit options in the #1 and #2 batting spots, and enough depth at most positions. We know catching depth is more of an injury concern, so hopefully they can find a vet that will stay at AAA for a while if necessary. CF and SS have performance risk, but also performance upside. They now have reasonable coverage for Alonso at 1B, both delaying his call up and with regards to how he fares once called up.

    My bottom line is that i have to give Brodie kudos for these accomplishments. They aren’t perfect, but are improvements. Yes, McNeil may lose some playing time, which isn’t optimal, but this happens to guys breaking in on competing teams. I can accept that, for the most part, at this stage. But, they need to push up to a 90+ win projection to truly justify it.

  6. John Fox
    January 12, 2019 at 11:26 am

    Nice job of research/writing on this one, Dalton. It’s interesting that McNeil has high production leading off an inning, yet as you noted he never once was the leadoff batter in the batting order last year. I am concerned with the logjam of veteran infielders he will get a lot less playing time than he deserves.

  7. jennifer
    January 12, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    I just realistically don’t see how McNeil gets adequate playing time to get the ABs he needs. He needs to play 5/7 games and that’s not going to happen w/this roster as currently constructed. He’s depth #3 at every position it seems. This is a good problem, but a real problem, considering this is the NL, not the AL w/the DH. IF he’s not playing at least semi-regularly on the regular, then he has to go to Syracuse, which is a waste of his time. I know the Yankees did that a lot last year with MLB starter types, but we want to win, don’t we? The sample size for McNeil last year is small, because the Mets refused to call him up earlier. They’re paying the price for it now w/getting all this depth because they’re not sure of what they have.

    Lowrie, Cano, Rosario, Nimmo, Conforto are essentially playing everyday. That leaves 1 OF position and 1 IF position he’s fighting for w/Frazier, Alonso, Davis?, Lagares, and Broxton. It’s going to be tough at best.

    • Eric Bloom
      January 12, 2019 at 1:15 pm

      I read somewhere that last season the Astros or red six (cant remember which) had 9 or 10 players who received at least 400 ABs. I believe that is Brodie s game plan here. Everyone plays. Stays healthy and fresh.

      • jennifer
        January 12, 2019 at 1:18 pm

        Then they have to have a plan in place from jump re: the lineups/PT. That means FO is on Mickey about this. They can’t start playing same guys every day then. If they have a plan that allows semi-reg time for McNeil, then fine.

  8. Metsense
    January 12, 2019 at 12:48 pm

    This was an enjoyable read and thorough research. Thanks.
    I’m a McNeil supporter and think he will have a good career. The Mets now have Lowrie and Cano who are better than him. McNeil will get at bats when Lowrie spells Rosario and Cano. At the start of the season, he could platoon with Frazier at 1B. When Alonzo gets promoted then he can give Alonzo a rest. He can also play when Lowrie rests. Calloway is liberal with his resting of players. Many posters have criticized McNeil’s 2018 production as too small a sample. McNeil can prove them wrong while not having the pressure a starter. It is a luxury for contending teams to bring their young stars along with reduced pressure. The Mets did that with Conforto in the summer of 2015.
    I like that the Mets have this depth and I’m confident that he will rise to the challenge.

    • Mike Walczak
      January 12, 2019 at 3:38 pm

      We all know that someone will get hurt. It’s not a bad problem to have.

    • TJ
      January 12, 2019 at 5:12 pm

      Metsense,
      Good points. I am with you in liking McNeil. Yes, last year was a small sample, a crazy high BABIP, and he has no plus plus tool. But he shows good fundies on offense, defense, and on the bases. Those guys have value.

      Some are more concerned than me on playing time. Back in 1986, Howard Johnson and Kevin Mitchell didn’t get to play every day. But they did get a Workd Series ring and went on to success later in their careers.

  9. oldbackstop
    January 12, 2019 at 3:36 pm

    I like McNeil, and I liked TJ Rivera before him…high contact guys who play the game right.

    But in terms of tools, where is he a plus player? I don’t think he has a monster arm, or he’d have been brought up on the other side of the OF. No real record of SBs….had power in the minors for the first time last year, but not sure there is upside growth there at 27.

    We say superutil, but his games aside from 2nd and 3rd total a few dozen. A superutil needs to have more experience than two positions. He has nine game starts at SS in the last three years.

    The excitement here is over 224 abs for a 26 year old rookie.

    I think McNeil’s highest and best use is a trade chit. When he comes out of the gate hitting his projections…289, single digit HRs and SBs….he won’t be as beloved.

    • Chris F
      January 12, 2019 at 6:18 pm

      +1

  10. Steve S.
    January 12, 2019 at 4:42 pm

    ESPN is reporting that San Diego will move Wil Myers to the OF and will need a 3Bman. Time to trade Frazier to them!

    • Wayne
      January 13, 2019 at 9:14 am

      Go for it, but I am
      afraid his age, his athleticism prevents even the Padres from seeking him out.

      • Steve S.
        January 13, 2019 at 10:13 am

        You could be right, but he will only be 33 this year.

        And between 2013-2017, he averaged over 150 games a year.

        His strained rib-cage and hamstring muscles last year were the first time he had ever been on the DL, and there’s no real evidence that he’s “injury prone.”

        His fielding is a plus, and he’s a slightly above average hitter (based on his OPS+ in his career; even last year he was at 95).

  11. oldbackstop
    January 15, 2019 at 5:44 pm

    Well….from your lips to god’s ears, but McNeil only had like 300 abs last year? I guarantee you his career batting average isn’t going to be .329 and I guarantee you he isn’t going to suddenly get power and speed. McNeil’s dWAR last year was 0.0, I doubt he is going to bring better defense than Cano or Frazier.

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