Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the 2019 season – and there are a ton of good options from which to choose – was the team not believing more in Jeff McNeil. Sure, they believed in him enough not to trade him. But they thought so little of him that the GM considered second base to be a “primary need” for the club. That decision is going to haunt them for years.
McNeil came up and was fantastic in 248 PA in 2018. He was every bit as good, and likely better, over 567 PA in 2019. McNeil posted better OPS+, wOBA and wRC+ numbers in his sophomore seasons. The only place where he took a step back was on defense, as he had to reacquaint himself with the outfield due to the senseless trade.
It looks like a done deal that McNeil will be at 3B in 2020. And whatever little doubt there may be about that right now will be cleared up if Yoenis Cespedes is ready to contribute … something … at the start of the season. Because beyond a shadow of a doubt, McNeil needs to be in the lineup. It may not be at his ideal position of 2B but it will still be good to see him back on the infield.
The fascinating thing about McNeil’s offense during the 2019 season is how the shape of his production changed the final two-plus months of the year. In his breakout year of 2018, which started in the minors, McNeil hit for both power and average. But when he came to the majors, he seemed intent on trading power for average.
And the first 91 games of last year were very similar. After the game of July 28, McNeil had a .336 AVG and a .909 OPS. It was an outstanding follow-up to his rookie season. But in the final 42 games of the year, McNeil started to look to hit for more power. In his final 187 PA, McNeil belted 13 HR. In order to produce the power, he had to sacrifice his average. McNeil hit just .279 – a drop of 57 points – in those final 42 games but his OPS jumped to .940, an increase of 31 points.
Without a doubt, adding power to his game made him a better offensive player.
The question is if he’ll be able to maintain that type of power over a full season, especially if the baseballs resemble the ones from last year’s playoffs more than the ones from the regular season. That’s true for a lot of players, not just McNeil. But given his excellent AVG over the first 154 games of his MLB career, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where McNeil starts looking to hit for power but finds the sledding there tougher and transitions back to being an AVG hitter.
Add in the wrist injury that ended his 2019 season and all of that makes coming up with a forecast a challenge. Let’s check in and see what the computer models say:
ATC – 615 PA, .296/.357/.478, 20 HR, 72 RBIs
Marcel- 508 PA, .306/.372/.501, 18 HR, 62 RBIs
Steamer – 660 PA, .288/.348/.462, 20 HR, 73 RBIs
ZiPS – 573 PA, .293/.355/.480, 19 HR, 71 RBIs
Three of the four systems see essentially the same exact player. And it’s not like Marcel is far off from what the others project. The biggest difference is playing time. Marcel has the short end of the playing time projection while Steamer sees him getting 152 more trips to the plate.
Here’s my totally biased prediction for McNeil:
Obviously, it’s my belief that the wrist is healed, the baseballs won’t be radically different from what they were in the regular season last year and that McNeil will continue to hit for power. It’s an optimistic forecast in the power department, for sure. It might be pessimistic on his BABIP and his walks.
You’ll have more credibility if you chime in now with what you think McNeil will do this year. Net up to undergo the forecast microscope will be Marcus Stroman.