Back on April 4, an article was published here talking about Jeff McNeil’s slow start to the season. It also included his Grapefruit League and WBC numbers. At that point, McNeil was 9-53. Just in MLB games, he was slashing .191/.191/.238 in 21 PA. But despite that slow start, McNeil is back to last year’s numbers before the end of April, which is very nice to see. In 2022, McNeil had a 140 OPS+ and a 143 wRC+. After Thursday night’s game, he has a 136 OPS+ and a 143 wRC+.

In those first five games, the main issue was that McNeil was doing a Luis Guillorme imitation and hitting way too many ground balls. He put 19 balls in play and 10 of those were grounders while only two were line drives. That’s a 52.6 GB% and a 10.5 LD%. Now, with 26 games played instead of five, McNeil has a 45.2 GB% and a 27.4 LD%. Neither number is quite as good as what he produced a season ago, yet both are significant improvements from the start of the year.

By April 16, McNeil had raised his OPS from .429 to .659 but the best was still to come. In his next 10 games, culminating with Thursday’s two-hit game, McNeil has a .421/.488/.605 line in 43 PA. You can’t bat over .400 without the hits falling in. But what’s really encouraging is that .184 ISO. He’s had two doubles, a triple and a homer in those 43 PA.

Those 43 trips to the plate include 3 BB, 2 HBP and 2 Ks, leaving 36 times where he’s hit the ball. Using the Baseball-Reference box scores, here’s how McNeil’s batted balls have played out in the past 10 games:

14 GB (38.9)
12 LD (33.3)
10 FB (27.8)

A third of his batted balls going for line drives is exactly what we hope to see. A line drive is the batted ball most likely to produce a hit. So far this year, MLB batters have hit a line drive in 20.3% of their batted balls and they have a .648 AVG. In the past 10 games, McNeil has gone 9-12 when hitting a line drive, a sweet .750 AVG.

That’s probably one more hit than you would expect with his LD production. The big deal is the number of line drives McNeil’s hitting, more so than his results. Where we see a touch more good fortune – where the hits are falling in – is with his grounders. MLB hitters have a .240 AVG when they hit the ball on the ground here in 2023. But of McNeil’s 14 GB, he has five hits, good for a .357 AVG. He should probably have two fewer hits here on grounders.

Three more hits than expected in 26 GB + LD is the difference between hitting .421 and having a .342 AVG. We’d still be quite happy if McNeil was hitting .342 in his last 10 games. And the reason would be because of all of the line drives he’s hitting.

In addition to his batted ball profile, we should be very happy with his contact numbers. McNeil has just 2 Ks in 43 PA, which is a microscopic 4.7 K%.

While he’s making contact at a fantastic rate, that doesn’t mean all of it is good contact, even in the midst of a hot streak. Six times McNeil has grounded the ball to the second baseman, one a GDP, and five times he’s popped up to an infielder. It’s naïve to think that he’s never going to hit a ground out – he also has three grounders to the first baseman in this stretch – but this is why you want more LD in your batted ball profile.

Earlier, we discussed BABIP and the hits falling in, and using that to temper our expectations. But it works in reverse, too. Lifetime, McNeil has a .355 BABIP when he pulls the ball, yet so far this season he has just a .258 mark. Outside of his down season in 2021, McNeil has never had a BABIP on pulled balls less than .356, the mark he posted in the truncated 2020 season. Last year, he put up a .414 BABIP on pulled balls

If McNeil has a 143 wRC+ without having his usual stellar results when he pulls the ball, just imagine what his overall numbers will look like when he does. It’s reasonable to believe that some of those rollovers to the right side of the infield will either find holes or be elevated into line drives as the season progresses.

My hope coming into the year was that McNeil would pull the ball more often and he’s done just that. But the hope is that he pulls the ball with line drives in the outfield, rather than grounders to the first and second basemen. McNeil got off to a dreadful start because he wasn’t hitting enough line drives. That’s starting to turn now. But even in this hot streak, the line drives to right field aren’t being productive. McNeil is just 1-4 on pulled line drives to right field. And these are the balls that will likely be extra-base hits, making them even more valuable when they land for hits.

McNeil’s best season came in 2019, when he posted a 144 wRC+. It’s terrific to see him with a 143 mark now after his slow start to the year. And it’s even better to know that he’s done this without coming close to maximizing one of his strengths, production when he pulls the ball. As crazy as it may seem, there’s reason to think that even better results are possible for McNeil the remainder of the year.

5 comments on “Line drives help fuel Jeff McNeil’s hot streak

  • JimO

    I don’t understand why we aren’t batting McNeil first or second.

    • Brian Joura

      I wouldn’t mind McNeil hitting in the top of the order.

      But every argument you make for him fits Nimmo even better. I wouldn’t mind a Nimmo-McNeil top two. But Marte told Showalter last year that he didn’t care where he played or where he batted – he just wanted it to be consistent. So, Buck got the defensive alignment he wanted and the cost was Marte batting second. With McNeil’s poor 2021, he really wasn’t an option to bat 2nd when last year started.

      On top of that, most managers want to break up their lefty hitters. The best hope may be for Buck to bat McNeil 3rd and Lindor 5th. But my guess is he doesn’t want to take the third spot away from Lindor.

    • Metsense

      Or 3rd

  • BoomBoom

    Yeah McNeil is the prototypical 2 hitter and it just so happens that Nimmo and McNeil are probably among the clubs top 2 batters against left handed pitching negating any late game matchup concerns. Lindor can stay at 3 and put Marte at 5 or vice versa and suddenly you have a bit more protection for Alonso and a lengthier lineup.

    Lindor (switch hitting)

  • JimO

    I like Canha batting 9th. I would love to see the team get a real DH still – a carry-over problem which remains from last year (although I do enjoy watching “Tommy Boy” Vogelbach).

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